Skip to main content

MH370: Undersea search could cost a quarter billion dollars, official says

By Faith Karimi and David Molko, CNN
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 0245 GMT (1045 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Malaysian official raises the possibility of more underwater search vehicles
  • Underwater probe heads out for fifth mission, no 'contacts of interest' yet
  • Bluefin-21 has covered 110 square kilometers in four trips
  • A preliminary analysis of an oil sample shows that it is not aircraft engine oil

(CNN) -- A prolonged undersea search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 could cost nearly a quarter of a billion U.S. dollars if private companies are used, Australia's top transport official said Thursday.

Martin Dolan emphasized that the $234 million price tag is a "ballpark rough estimate" of an extended search and salvage mission that includes an underwater vehicle.

The Bluefin-21 is back at work Friday morning on a fifth trip into the southern Indian Ocean. Authorities said the vessel has scanned a total of 110 square kilometers (42.5 square miles) without making any "contacts of interest."

Searchers seem to be preparing for the possibility that an underwater drone scan of the ocean may not yield debris from the plane immediately.

Lack of progress angers Chinese families
Underwater drone aborts first mission
How hard is it to find a black box?
On June 26, the Joint Agency Coordination Center released a map showing the new search area for flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean. On June 26, the Joint Agency Coordination Center released a map showing the new search area for flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean.
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Photos: The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Malaysia's acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said that authorities are looking at deploying more unmanned underwater probes.

Officials might consider searching along a large portion of sea highlighted by a partial digital "handshake" between the jetliner and an Inmarsat PLC satellite, Dolan said.

That arc of sea is over 370 miles long and 30 miles wide.

Underwater search

Officials didn't indicate whether Bluefin's fourth mission was a lengthy one.

The Bluefin was forced to abort its mission twice this week; the first time after it exceeded its original depth limit and the second time over a technical issue. After the latter was resolved, officials dipped it into the ocean again.

Phoenix International Holdings, which owns and operates the equipment under a contract for the U.S. Navy, called the third dive "very productive," saying that the underwater drone spent nearly 13 hours at the sea bottom.

But after four dives, "there has been no debris or aircraft wreckage discovered," the company said.

The underwater vessel takes two hours to get near the ocean floor and another two hours to return to the surface. It aims to map the ocean floor for 16 hours to retrieve data, which then take four hours to analyze.

The vessel searches maximum depths of 4,500 meters (14,764 feet). The U.S. Navy has determined the seafloor in the search area reaches a maximum depth of 4,600 meters (15,092 feet).

Bluefin operators said they can reprogram it to operate at 5,000 meters (16,404 feet), giving it more leeway.

New setbacks

Officials believe a recent ping heard in the search area has the right frequency to belong to the flight data recorder's emergency beacon.

The quality of the "ping" led authorities to focus the underwater search in the area.

And as the underwater focus continues, officials faced other setbacks.

Renewed focus on MH370 pilot's phone
Searches for Titanic and MH370 similar
MH370 partner: They're still alive
Clues from possible debris scenarios

A preliminary analysis of an oil sample collected in the ocean shows that it is not aircraft engine oil or hydraulic fluid, Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Centre said Thursday.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished on March 8 with 239 people aboard after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, bound for Beijing.

With no debris found so far and no possible pings from the plane's "black boxes" detected in a week, officials shifted the focus of the search underwater.

READ: MH370 families storm out of glitchy teleconference with Malaysian officials

READ: A primer on the latest in the search for Flight 370

READ: How deep is deep? Imagining the MH370 search underwater

CNN's Ivan Watson, Brian Todd, Elizabeth Joseph, Erin Burnett and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
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.
ADVERTISEMENT