A small squadron of undersea robots has begun to conduct a 4 month, 3,900 square mile search of Atlantic Ocean bottom looking for the deep-sea wreck site of and black boxes from Air France Flight 447 which crashed off the coast of Brazil nearly two years ago.
The Air France plane was flying from Rio de Jeneiro to Paris, when for exact reasons that remain a mystery, it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009, taking with it 228 souls. Searchers have been unable to locate the aircraft in three attempts since then. The latest $12.5 million search is being paid for by Air France and Airbus, which makes A330 airliner that crashed.
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The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) said this week it was sending its ship, Alucia, which includes 34 crew and supports three REMUS 6000 autonomous underwater vehicles which are designed and operated by WHOI.
According to WHOI, the autonomous undersea vehicles are designed to operate in depths up to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet or 3.73 miles). As each vehicle covers an area in a "mowing" pattern, it employs side-scan sonar to survey up to 600 meters to its left and right. Capable of staying underwater for up to 20 hours at a time, REMUS then returns to the ship, where scientists download its data. If the data contains evidence of any debris or other items of interest undersea, a REMUS 6000 will be dispatched to gather more detailed, up-close images using high-resolution cameras located on the bottom of the vehicle, the group stated.
"The plane was lost over the Mid-Ocean Ridge, a feature that we have been exploring for more than 30 years. The terrain will be extremely rugged and the search will be difficult, but this is something that we have been doing as a part of our mission to explore and understand the global oceans," said David Gallo, director of special projects at WHOI in a statement.
WHOI will lead the search cooperation with the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses, BEA, the French Bureau of investigation and analysis for civil aviation safety. BEA has already begun to issue updates on its Website about the progress of the search.
According to a USA Today article, find the wreckage and its possible cause is a major issue on a number of levels: "The stakes are enormous: A French magistrate issued manslaughter charges earlier this month against both Airbus and Air France. Accident investigators are trying to determine whether the speed sensors that are used on all passenger jets could have a rare but dangerous susceptibility to icing. And families of the dead are growing impatient with the lack of information."
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