Malaysia Airlines flight MH370: Submarines deployed after large oil slick discovered in Indian Ocean search zone

As authorities analyse new oil slick find, unmanned submersible vehicle will map ocean floor

The search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will go underwater for the first time, it has been announced, as authorities investigate the few remaining clues they have to locate the plane.

With the jet’s “black box” flight recorders apparently having fallen silent, an unmanned submersible vehicle will now be sent down to map the bottom of the ocean in a painstaking process that nonetheless represents the best hopes of finding any wreckage.

Today it was also revealed that a large oil slick has been discovered in the approximate search area of the southern Indian Ocean, which does not appear to have come from any nearby ships.

The oil is a rare lead that will be investigated thoroughly, those leading the search said – but comes after more than a month in which not a single object found on the surface has been positively linked to the missing Boeing 777.

Speaking about the decision to dive down towards the approximate location of previously-detected “pings” – believed to be from black boxes – Australian search orchestrator Angus Houston said: “We haven't had a single detection in six days, so I guess it's time to go underwater.”

He said the Bluefin 21 autonomous submersible would use sonar to create a high-resolution, three-dimensional map of the ocean floor some 4,500 metres (15,000 feet) down.

But it will be a painfully slow process. Each 24-hour mission will include four hours to dive and resurface and four hours to analyse data, leaving 16 hours in which the vehicle will cover just 40 square kilometres.

Houston said that while the “pings” had been a significant lead in allowing the search area to be greatly reduced, the public should not underestimate the scale of the challenge recovery teams face.

“This is an area that is new to man,” he said. “I would caution you against raising hopes that the deployment of the autonomous underwater vehicle will result in the detection of the aircraft wreckage — it may not.

“However, this is the best lead we have, and it must be pursued vigorously. Again, I emphasize that this will be a slow and painstaking process.”

Read more: Plane 'thrown around like fighter jet to dodge radar'
Did jet's co-pilot make last-gasp phone call before it disappeared?

While finding the black boxes remains the only real way we are likely to ever know what happened to make MH370 veer so wildly from its course and crash, Bluefin 21 will also have the secondary task of locating any other wreckage from the plane that may have lain to rest on the sea bed.

Houston said on Monday that the visual search for debris continued on the ocean surface – but with 12 plans and 15 ships still scouring around 47,000 square km (18,000 square miles), their hopes of any success have “greatly diminished”.

“We've got no visual objects,” he said. “The only thing we have left at this stage is the four transmissions and an oil slick in the same vicinity, so we will investigate those to their conclusion.”

It will be a number of days before a full analysis of the oil slick can be completed – and it will likely be many more before we have any indication of whether Bluefin 21 will unearth the missing jet.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
football
Sport
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
News
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine