Mini-sub completes first full mission in hunt for Malaysian jet

PERTH, Australia- A mini-submarine hunting for wreckage of a missing Malaysian airliner has completed its first full mission at the third attempt, officials said Thursday, as seabed data it retrieved was being analyzed.

The first two attempts to scan the deep Indian Ocean off western Australia failed to produce any results.

The first dive began Monday night but aborted automatically after breaching the sub’s maximum operating depth of 4,500 metres (15,000 feet).

The second was launched Tuesday night and cut short Wednesday morning due to unspecified “technical” troubles.

“Overnight Bluefin-21 AUV completed a full mission in the search area and is currently planning for its next mission,” Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Center (JACC) said.

“Bluefin-21 has searched approximately 90 square kilometers (35 square miles) to date and the data from its latest mission is being analyzed.”

The statement gave no other detail about the next dive or the technical issues of the previous forays.

Before the device was put in the water for the third time, data was downloaded from the vehicle while on the deck of the Australian vessel Ocean Shield, which has led the search for the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that vanished on March 8 with 239 people aboard.

But initial analysis of the data indicated no significant detections, JACC said.

The Bluefin’s first mission, cut short after just six of an intended 16 hours mapping the seabed with sonar, had also drawn a blank.

After more than three weeks of hunting for black box signals, the autonomous sub was deployed for the first time on Monday night.

The US navy explained that the Bluefin-21 had automatically aborted its first mission after six hours.

JACC added that it had “exceeded its operating depth limit of 4,500 metres and its built-in safety feature returned it to the surface”.

The sub was undamaged and had to be re-programmed, said US Navy Captain Mark Matthews.