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April 15, 2014

Robot submersible searches ocean floor for missing Malaysian airliner

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As the search for the missing Malaysian airliner continues, officials decided to give up listening for pings and start looking at the ocean floor with the help of a U.S. Navy robot submersible.

“Today is day 38 of the search. The guaranteed shelf life of the batteries on the aircraft black boxes is 30 days,” said Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston who is the search coordinator.

An airplane’s “black box” records all the details of a flight, including logging information about controls and sensors and recording the conversation of the pilots. They are used to determine what went wrong when a problem occurs on a flight. Despite the name “black box”, these devices are usually bright orange to increase their visibility.

“Despite the lack of further detections, the four signals previously acquired [from the black box] taken together constitute the most promising lead we have in the search for MH370. We need to pursue this lead as far as possible,” said Houston.

To investigate the lead, officials are now using the Bluefin-21, a submersible that can create a 3-D sonar map of any debris on the ocean floor, but it’s slow going. Each mission can take up to 24 hours, and this first trip will cover only about 15 square miles in a search area that spans some 18,000 square miles.

Investigators cautioned against raising hopes of finding any debris. Meanwhile, an aerial search continues, though spotting any surface debris is becoming increasingly unlikely.


Warm up questions
  1. Where is the Indian Ocean?
  2. How would you find a missing plane? What resources would you use? How would your search change over time?
Discussion questions
  1. How does sonar work? Why have teams searching for flight 370 chosen to use this technology to find the plane?
  2. How likely do you think it is that the plane will be found? How long should they search for the plane? Who should be responsible for paying for the search?
Writing prompts

Imagine that you are a grief counselor working with the families of the lost passengers. At this point there is no chance that their loved ones are still alive, but some of the families you work with refuse to give up hope. Think about what is best for the emotional well-being of the families moving forward. Is it better to let them go on believing there is still hope or is it better to force them to recognize the reality of the situation? Explain what advice or support you would you give them and why. Further, how would you tell them what you need to? Would you do it one-on-one or in a group? What do you expect their reactions will be? How would you deal with negative reactions to what you had to say.

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