Crews in the remote southern Indian Ocean have begun the underwater hunt for the missing Malaysian jetliner's flight data recorder, which is set to run out of battery power in just a few days.
Retired Australian Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said Friday a U.S. Navy-towed pinger locator is being dragged across a 240-kilometer track to try to detect a signal from the black box.
"The towed pinger has been deployed today on Ocean Shield. The search is currently ongoing and of course it's not just Ocean Shield that's doing the search with a towed pinger but HMS Echo, the British oceanographic ship which is coming on a converging course over a 240-kilometer track, and it [also] has good equipment for finding things on the floor of the ocean," said Houston.
Authorities estimate they have only until around Monday before the batteries run out on the black box's locator beacon, which transmits electronic signals, or pings.
That date marks 30 days since the Boeing 777 mysteriously vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. A massive, multinational search effort has turned up no traces of the jet.
On Friday, an expanded team of 14 airplanes and nine ships continued their so far fruitless mission of looking for possible signs of wreckage floating on the ocean surface.
Houston, who is heading up the Australian agency coordinating the search, said crews have not given up hope of finding some debris, such as lifejackets, floating on the water.
Without establishing a crash site, authorities are working with a staggeringly large search area, which on Friday stood at nearly 217,000 square kilometers. The international search team says it remains committed to finding the wreckage, but officials have in recent days conceded that the mystery may never be completely solved.
The jetliner vanished without any distress calls on March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Officials have refused to rule out any possibilities, including hijacking, sabotage, or a mechanical malfunction.
Malaysian officials have ruled out foul play from any of the plane's 239 passengers, but continue to investigate the pilots and crew for possible wrongdoing.