Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak officially declared that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 crashed in “the middle of the Indian Ocean west of Perth” Australia and it’s more than likely the 239 people aboard did not survive.
That the plane possibly went down in water as deep in 23,000 feet in a remote stretch of the southern Indian Ocean certainly makes recovery of the “black box” flight data recorder a needle-in-a-haystack scenario. However, the U.S. Navy’s “tow fish” underwater microphone is coming to the rescue.
The 70-pound tow fish is a hydrodynamic mic specifically designed to locate the acoustic black box signals given off by cockpit voice recorders, and it can do so in depths up to 20,000 feet. “Basically, this super-sensitive hydrophone gets towed behind a commercial vessel very slowly and listens for black box pings,” Commander Chris Budde, U.S. 7th Fleet operations officer, told Wired.
The U.S Navy outfitted a Royal Australian Navy Rescue Support vessel with two of the devices, one for operation and one for back up. The boat will drag the tow fish, tethered by 20,000 feet of cable, through the search area at approximately three knots. As the device scans 1,000 feet above the seafloor, it can detect a transponder signal within a two-mile radius and cover 150 square miles a day.
Regardless, there’s still a lot of ocean to scour. The search area covers some 35,400 square miles, and it’s hard to estimate where the strong currents of the south Indian Ocean may have drifted debris.
Credit: U.S. Navy