Skip to main content

Flight 370: The search goes under water

By Tom Watkins and Elizabeth Joseph, CNN
April 5, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
  • NEW: Up to 10 military planes, 3 civilian planes, 11 ships will be part of Saturday's search
  • NEW: The search area shifts slightly further off Australia's northwest coast
  • Naval vessels are looking for underwater hoping to locate the plane's ping
  • A month later, still holding on to hope: "See you in the morning for breakfast"

Perth, Australia (CNN) -- Four weeks to the day since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing, the search is set to continue Saturday -- both on the surface of the southern Indian Ocean and deep below it.

Time is fast ticking down to find the missing Boeing 777's locator pingers: If functioning as expected, their batteries will run out of juice Monday.

The British Royal Navy survey ship HMS Echo and the Australian naval supply ship Ocean Shield began scouring about 6,500 feet to 13,000 feet deep on the ocean floor on Friday along a single 150-mile (240-kilometer) track, said retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the Australian agency coordinating the search.

The Ocean Shield has high-tech gear borrowed from the United States. That includes a Bluefin-21, which can scour the ocean floor for wreckage, and a Towed Pinger Locator 25, with its underwater microphone to detect pings from the jet's voice and data recorders as deep as 20,000 feet (6,100 meters).

"It is a very slow proceeding," U.S. Navy Capt. Mark M. Matthews said of the second tool, which is towed behind a vessel typically moving at 1 to 5 knots.

Said Bill Schofield, an Australian scientist who worked on developing flight data recorders: "If they do find it, I think it'll be remarkable."

Up to 10 military planes and three civilian aircraft -- in addition for 11 ships -- will be looking Saturday for any sign of Flight 370, according to the Australian government.

The search area will be just under 84,000 square miles (217,000 square kilometers), which is slightly less than the area searched Friday, and will focus some 1,050 miles northwest of Perth. This is about 50 miles further from the western Australian city than was the case a day earlier.

Is this the right spot? Will they find anything? So far, all efforts to locate signs of the airliner have proven unsuccessful. Still, those involved have vowed to keep trying.

A policewoman watches a couple whose son was on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 cry outside the airline's office building in Beijing after officials refused to meet with them on Wednesday, June 11. The jet has been missing since March 8. A policewoman watches a couple whose son was on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 cry outside the airline's office building in Beijing after officials refused to meet with them on Wednesday, June 11. The jet has been missing since March 8.
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
Photos: The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Photos: The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
Weather conditions and the MH370 search
Vessels narrow search site for MH370
Prime ministers offer no answers

"Really, the best we can do right now is put these assets in the best location -- the best guess we have -- and kind of let them go," U.S. Navy Cmdr. William Marks told CNN. "Until we get conclusive evidence of debris, it is just a guess."

'Long way to go'

Officials have repeatedly warned that the massive international search to find signs of the Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing flight may not conclude any time soon.

"We've still got a long way to go," Houston said Friday.

In the case of Air France Flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, officials found debris on the surface after five days of searching. But it took them nearly two years to find the main pieces of wreckage, the flight recorders and many of the bodies of those on board.

With Flight 370, the search teams have even fewer clues.

On Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott warned that "we cannot be certain of ultimate success in the search" for the Malaysian aircraft. He described it as the most difficult search "in human history."

Authorities have yet to explain why the plane flew off course or where it ended up; investigations into the 227 passengers and 12 crew members have yielded no suggestion that any of them might have been behind the disappearance.

6 missteps in the investigation

Families' frustrations

Malaysian officials held a briefing for Malaysian relatives of those aboard MH370 on Thursday evening at a Kuala Lumpur hotel, but attendees told CNN that nothing new had emerged.

Mohammad Sahril Shaari, whose cousin Mohammad Razahan Zamani was a honeymooning groom on the plane, said the three-hour session had felt like a "waste of time."

He added, "I was hoping for some news that they had tracked the plane or some parts of it, but nothing like that happened."

Selamat Bin Omar, the father of another passenger, Malaysian civil flight engineer Mohammed Khairul Amri Selamat, said officials described in detail the satellite data that has led investigators to the current search area.

"They could not tell us if the plane crashed," he said. "They said they were still looking into it."

Danica Weeks, wife of passenger Paul Weeks, said after the meeting that the jet's disappearance still perplexes her. "The hardest process for me is understanding that a commercial airliner can just go black," the New Zealander told CNN's Paula Newton.

"That someone can just turn off all communications, all matter of tracking an airliner, and it can just disappear. And this is the mystery."

About the search for the plane, she said, "If it's there, they will find it. But are they in the right place? It's all calculations. It's all guesswork."

Hanging on to hope

Weeks said her infant son Jack will celebrate his first birthday next month, and their 3-year-old son, Lincoln, was still coming to grips with their loss.

"Dad was everything for him," she said. "He read Lincoln always his bedtime story, and they had this saying that they'd say -- you know, 'Good night, I love you and see you in the morning for breakfast.'

"And now he comes out and I tell him that Dad is up in the sky, and we come out every night and we find the brightest star. We find the brightest star and he says, 'Good night, Daddy, I love you. See you in the morning for breakfast.' And that breaks my heart."

But, four weeks after the plane vanished, she too has not given up on seeing him for breakfast.

"I know it sounds crazy, but I still have a slight hope, you know," she said, adding that she will be able to grieve only after confronted by evidence of his death.

"The grief at this point still hasn't started for me," she said. "I have my moments, but until I have evidence, I still don't know."

The partner of American passenger Philip Wood was also among those who attended Friday's meeting. "The only thing I learned last night after three hours is that the Malaysian families are more calm and rational than the Chinese," Sarah Bajc told CNN's Judy Kwon in an e-mail.

"But they are equally frustrated and have totally lost faith in the Malaysian government."

Bajc noted that officials have concluded that the jetliner flew over Malaysia "for quite a long time."

"It is impossible that this relatively sophisticated military power didn't see it," she said. "They are clearly hiding something. We just don't know what."

Malaysia refuses to let families hear the plane's radio communications

The Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation denied a request by Malaysian families to release the audio recording of radio communications among the pilot, co-pilot and air traffic control, two people who attended the briefing said.

The department's chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, told the relatives that even the families of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid have not been allowed to listen to the recording because it is part of an ongoing investigation, the two attendees said.

Malaysian authorities released a transcript of the recording Tuesday.

"This is an event that is so unprecedented and I think that is so significant that it can never be allowed to get off the screens, get off the radar," K.S. Narendran told CNN's Erin Burnett.

His wife, Chandrika Sharma, was on the flight.

"My concern is that if we don't really get to the bottom of it, we cannot really be certain that we are safe and that we are secure every time we board a flight."

Ocean Shield: A mission of hope in search for Flight 370

Flight 370: High-tech search tools

Inside the flight simulator

Read the cockpit transcript

CNN's Elizabeth Joseph reported from Perth, and Tom Watkins reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN's Greg Botelho, Ingrid Formanek, Jethro Mullen, Laura Smith-Spark, Ben Brumfield, Mitra Mobasherat, Paula Newton and journalist Ivy Sam contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
June 26, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
The search for MH370 is moving to an area farther south in the Indian Ocean, said the Australian Deputy Prime Minister.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 0033 GMT (0833 HKT)
Erin Burnett speaks to Miles O'Brien about the latest in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Ten experts say that the search for MH370 should move hundreds of miles away from the previous search area.
June 17, 2014 -- Updated 1322 GMT (2122 HKT)
His wife never came home from her flight on MH370, and now K.S. Narendran is left to imagine the worst of possible truths without knowing.
June 16, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Families are desperate for results as the search for MH370 reaches a grim milestone. Anna Coren reports from Beijing.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Relatives of passengers are launching an effort to raise $5 million for investigations and a "whistle blower" reward.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 0731 GMT (1531 HKT)
Making sure another plane is never "lost" again is the immediate priority for the airline industry.
May 30, 2014 -- Updated 1536 GMT (2336 HKT)
This handout photo taken on April 7, 2014 and released on April 9, 2014 by Australian Defence shows Maritime Warfare Officer, Sub Lieutenant Ryan Penrose watching HMAS Success as HMAS Perth approaches for a replenishment at sea while searching for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Two fresh signals have been picked up Australian ship Ocean Shield in the search for missing Malaysian flight MH370, raising hopes that wreckage will be found within days even as black box batteries start to expire.
Was the sound of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 striking the water captured by ocean devices used to listen for signs of nuclear blasts?
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2229 GMT (0629 HKT)
What was believed to be the best hope of finding the missing plane is now being called a false hope. Rene Marsh explains.
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2105 GMT (0505 HKT)
Involved parties, including the manufacturer Boeing, are bracing for a long public relations siege.
May 29, 2014 -- Updated 1134 GMT (1934 HKT)
Official: The four acoustic pings at the center of the search for Flight 370 are no longer believed to have come from the plane's black boxes.
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 1421 GMT (2221 HKT)
There is one fundamental question which continues to swirl: Has Inmarsat got its numbers right?
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 1213 GMT (2013 HKT)
Data from communications between satellites and missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 was released
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 0742 GMT (1542 HKT)
Family members of the people aboard missing plane want independent investigators to review the newly released satellite data.
May 21, 2014 -- Updated 1147 GMT (1947 HKT)
CNN's Richard Quest explains what kind of information should be contained in the Inmarsat data from Flight MH370.
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
The underwater search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane will effectively be put on hold this week, and may not resume until August at the earliest.
May 19, 2014 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
Movie-makers in Cannes have announced they're making a thriller based on the disappearance of Malaysian flight MH370.
May 6, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
The search for the missing Boeing 777 has gone on for eight weeks now. CNN's David Molko looks back at this difficult, emotional assignment.