MH370 search suffers setback after authorities lose ‘towfish’

The ‘fish’ sonar device used in the search for MH370. Posing with the ‘fish’ are Fugro operations manager Paul Kennedy and Fugro managing director Steve Duffield. Photo: Philip Gostelow MH370 vanished in March 2014.

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An underwater sonar vehicle being used to search for the missing MH370 plane has hit an underwater volcano and sunk to the sea floor in a setback for the long-running mission.

In a brief statement, the search team said the $1 million “towfish”, which was being towed underwater by the search ship the Fugro Discovery, struck a mud volcano that rose about 2200 meters above the sea floor in the southern Indian Ocean.

“The towfish and 4500 metres of cable became separated from the vessel and are now resting on the sea floor,” the statement from the Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre said.

There were no injuries to crew. The team believes it will be possible to recover the towfish “at a later date”.

The vehicle is now sitting about 2600 metres below the surface, a spokesman for the JACC said. Its precise location is known.

Asked how it happened, the spokesman said the accident would be “the subject of a thorough review”.

The arrangements for recovering it were yet to be determined but would likely involve a crane and an unmanned underwater vehicle.

The Furgo Discovery is heading back to Fremantle to have a replacement cable installed but is not expected to reach the port until Saturday.

During the journey the spare towfish, which is aboard the ship, will be prepared for deployment.

It would take about 12 days before the ship can begin searching again, the spokesman said.

The towfish is a scanning vehicle that maps the sea floor using “side sonar”, beaming signals to either side and relying on data bouncing back.

The search for the missing plane – regarded as the modern era’s greatest aviation mystery – has been beset by conflicting theories about the disappearance and the repeated raising of false hopes that the wreckage had been found.

In July a piece of wing from the plane was found washed up on the shore of Reunion Island, roughly 3700 kilometres from the location of the underwater search.

The Turnbull government announced in June that the search was being narrowed and indicated it was likely to end by June.

The Malaysian Airlines flight disappeared on March 8, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

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