MH370 beacon locator battery set to run out in 10 days, as search area shifts 1,100km

The battery on flight MH370's locator beacon is set to run out in 10 days, adding to the urgency in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner, as authorities announced today that the search area has once again shifted to an area 1,100km northeast of where planes had been looking.

Ships and aircraft are now moving to the new search area but there are fears that the battery attached to a tiny aluminium cylinder in the Boeing 777-200ER (9M-MRO) will die in the first week of April, making the task of finding the plane's wreckage and flight data recorder even harder.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said this morning that five Chinese ships and an Australian naval vessel are steaming to the new search area which is approximately 319,000 square kilometres and about 1,850km from Perth.

Ten aircraft from six countries are also involved in the search which resumed today after it was called off yesterday because of bad weather.

The new search area was identified based on continuing analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost with the plane.

"It indicated that the aircraft was travelling faster than previously estimated, resulting in increased fuel usage and reducing the possible distance the aircraft travelled south into the Indian Ocean," the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.

Despite six satellite sightings so far of possible debris from the plane, the multinational search teams had failed to recover any debris that could be linked to the missing aircraft.

The latest satellite images captured by a Japanese satellite showed around 10 floating objects off the coast of Australia that are "very probably" from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370, search authorities said.

Although much has been said about the need to recover the black box in order to solve the mystery of what happened on flight MH370, aviation experts have also warned that the crucial moments may never be discovered as the black box is programmed to record cockpit communication on a two-hour loop and might have deleted all but the final two hours, a report in The Telegraph said.

The crucial moment for understanding what happened to MH370 revolves around the period during which its communications systems were disabled and it took a sharp turn westwards before it continued flying for another seven hours.

Although the flight data would have survived, the discussion in the cockpit immediately after the flight lost contact with air traffic control would have been overwritten, unless power to the recorder was lost at the same time, The Telegraph report said.

The aircraft's locator beacon emits a “ping” which was inaudible to the human ear, CNN had quoted Anish Patel, president of beacon manufacturer Dukane Seacom Inc, as saying.

Every commercial jet is required to have pingers, or known as underwater locator beacons, to help locate lost aircraft.

One is attached to the flight data recorder and another to the cockpit voice recorder. The pingers are activated when it comes into contact with fresh or salt water, and emit a signal at 37.5 kilohertz.

To detect the signals, searchers drag hydrophones behind boats, drop them from ships or planes, or use specially equipped submersibles, the CNN report said.

A United States black box detector is currently being towed to the area, and is due to arrive on April 5 – 28 days after the crash, said The Telegraph.

This means the detector will only have two days to find the black box before the battery, which lasts for about 30 days, runs out. If the detector does not find the black box during this period, other techniques such as magnetic detection may be necessary.

The depth of the area of ocean that investigators are searching ranges from 1,150m to 7,000m. The detector can pick up the black box pinger down to a depth of about 6,100m.

To complicate matters, even if ships heading to the new search area managed to find debris from the plane, it could have drifted hundreds of kilometres from where the plane actually crashed 20 days ago and as such, may not point to the true location of the black box. – March 28, 2014.