Search crews will for the first time send a sub deep into the Indian Ocean to try to determine whether signals detected by sound-locating equipment are from the missing Malaysian plane's black boxes, the Australian head of the search said Monday.
Angus Houston said the crew on board the Ocean Shield will launch the underwater vehicle as soon as possible. The Bluefin 21 autonomous sub can create a sonar map of the area to chart any debris on the seafloor.
The move comes after crews picked up a series of underwater sounds over the past two weeks that were consistent with an aircraft's black boxes.
``We haven't had a single detection in six days, and I guess it's time to go under water,'' said Houston, the head of a joint agency co-ordinating the search off Australia's west coast.
``Analysis of the four signals has allowed the provisional definition of a reduced and manageable search area on the ocean floor. The experts have therefore determined that the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield will cease searching with the towed pinger locator later today and deploy the autonomous underwater vehicle Bluefin 21 as soon as possible,'' he said at a news conference in Perth.
But Houston warned the switch to the submarine will not automatically ``result in the detection of the aircraft wreckage. It may not.''
Recovering the plane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders is essential for investigators to try to figure out what happened to Flight 370, which vanished March 8. It was carrying 239 people, mostly Chinese, while en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing.
After analyzing satellite data, officials believe the plane flew off course for an unknown reason and went down in the southern Indian Ocean. Investigators trying to determine what happened to the plane are focusing on four areas _ hijacking, sabotage and personal or psychological problems of those on board.
Two sounds heard on April 5 by the Australian ship Ocean Shield, which was towing the ping locator, were determined to be consistent with the signals emitted from the black boxes. Two more pings were detected in the same general area Tuesday, but no new ones have been picked up since then.