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Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Race against time to find black box recorder before batteries run out

Crews searching for the missing flight have launched an underwater hunt just days before cockpit recorder is expected to stop transmitting signals

A high-tech US Navy pinger locater has been deployed in the race against time to find the black box from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, just days before its batteries are due to run out.

Two ships with locater abilities will search an underwater path. The Australian navy ship Ocean Shield, which is pulling the ping locater and the British navy's HMS Echo, which has underwater search gear on board, will converge along a 240-kilometer (150-mile) track.

The pingers on the plane’s black box transmit signals for about 30 days after a crash – giving search teams just days to find the recorder and potentially discover what happened to the jetliner, which disappeared on 8 March en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

On Monday it will be 30 days since the jetliner vanished. Up to 14 planes and nine ships will join the search which resumed today in the southern Indian Ocean.

Retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the Joint Agencies Coordination Centre (JACC) told reporters in Perth the underwater search will commence in the area where the aircraft is most likely to have entered the water.

The underwater search area has been determined on the basis of the analysis of satellite data.

The Boeing 777 was briefly picked up on military radar on the other side of Malaysia and analysis of subsequent hourly electronic "handshakes" exchanged with a satellite led investigators to conclude the plane crashed far off the west Australian coast hours later.

He said: "On best advice the locator beacon will last about a month before it ceases its transmissions so we're now getting pretty close to the time when it might expire."

Experts have warned the Towed Pinger Locator may be of little use unless investigators can get a much better idea of exactly where the plane went into water, because its limited range and the slow speed at which it must be pulled behind the ship mean it cannot cover large areas of ocean quickly.

Mr Houston stressed the start of the underwater search did not override the need to keep hunting for surface wreckage of the plane, as a find would be the most effective way to pinpoint a sub-sea hunt.

"This is a vast area, an area that's quite remote. We will continue the surface search for a good deal more time," he said.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott met with staff on Friday at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is running the search efforts, and acknowledged officials have no idea how long the hunt would continue.

"It is probably the most difficult search that's ever been mounted," Mr Abbot said.

Additional reporting by agencies