BEIJING — Authorities using a robotic submarine to look for wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 said Saturday they expect to complete the search of the “focused underwater area” in five to seven days.
Shortly after officials decided Monday to deploy the U.S. Navy’s Bluefin-21 robotic sub in the Indian Ocean, Navy representatives said the mission could take six weeks to two months as the unmanned vehicle crawled over the seabed, using sonar to map an area about as big as the city of Los Angeles.
However, Australian authorities coordinating the search from a base in Perth said Saturday that the search area was now defined as a circle with a radius of slightly more than 6 miles. The circle is centered on the site where a pinger locator detected signals on April 8 from what authorities believe to be one of the plane’s black boxes. That means the focused search area is about 121 square miles, and authorities said the Bluefin has already searched more than 51 square miles.
The robotic submarine is operating at depths of 2.8 miles or slightly greater.
“We are satisfied with progress so far, although there has been some planning adjustments caused by weather, unserviceability and other unforeseen circumstances,” a statement from the Australian search coordinators said.
Although retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who is coordinating the search efforts, had indicated Monday that the visual search for surface debris would probably be called off in a matter of days, that has not yet happened. Up to 11 military planes and 12 ships were participating Saturday in the search for debris.
Flight 370 went missing March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard.