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Undersea Search Resumes for France Flight 447

Analysis by Tracy Staedter | Tue Mar 30, 2010 01:43 PM ET

Remus-launch-278x225 On June 1, 2009, Air France Flight 447 disappeared in turbulent weather en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. For the remainder of the summer, two major efforts were launched by search and rescue crews to find the remains of the plane and the 228 people who had been on board, with great hopes of also finding the two data recorders. So far, 51 bodies and 1,000 pieces of wreckage have been found, but not the data recorders, which only emit signals for 30 days.

Finding the so-called black boxes is key to understanding what happened to the airplane.

Now, a new international sea search operation has formed to locate the Airbus A 330 and retrieve the flight recorders. The recovery mission, expected to last about a month, will employ two ships, one that will use sonar machines dragged by cables to scan the seabed and another that will deploy three autonomous underwater vehicles, the REMUS 6000s, which are designed and operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts.

The vehicles are able to dive to depths of 3.73 miles and stay underwater for up to 20 hours per day. They will use sonar technology to survey the mountainous terrain characteristic of the Mid-Ocean Ridge below this part of the Atlantic Ocean, and will be able to gather data about a third of a mile out to either side of the vehicle. 

Upon returning to the mother ship, he data compiled by the underwater vehicles will be immediately downloaded and analyzed. If the information suggests evidence of any debris, another REMUS 6000 will be dispatched to the area to snap up-close images using high-resolution cameras.

The scientists estimate that the vehicles will be able to scan about 30 square miles a day.

If anyone can find the wreck of Flight 447, its WHOI, who is probably best known for locating the Titanic in 1985.

Photo: Mike Purcell, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution


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Tracy Staedter
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