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Apr 03 2014

How to find the black box

Now that the search is on for the missing plane in order to retrieve the black box and find out what happened, the focus has shifted to the difficulty of finding it in the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean.

Erik van Sebille writes that it is going to be difficult. For one thing, the signal given out by the box stops after about a month so you have to resort to other methods of detection. The ocean becomes impenetrably dark as you go down to such depths. So how does one overcome these problems?

He says that you have to resort to using sonar signals because sound travels very well in water. But there are challenges. If the source of the signal is too high, you can cover a wide area but the resolution may be too poor to pick out the plane. If it is too low, it can take a long time to cover the search area.

The sonar method and submarines were what was used to recover the Air France black box from the 2009 crash in the Atlantic, but that search took two years. If I recall correctly, people had a much better idea of where that plane went down so this search may take longer unless they find a lot of plane debris soon before it drifts too far away from the crash site.

1 comment

  1. 1
    Marcus Ranum

    Side-looking radar is pretty amazing; and remember the black box wouldn’t be just sitting there on the bottom, it’d probably be in a pretty large piece of fuselage.

    During project JENNIFER they were able to locate the sunken K-129 at a depth of over 3 miles.
    Come to think of it, they detected the sub using SOSUS signals. I suppose an airplane hitting water isn’t really loud enough, but once it started to sink I’d expect they’d get crush sounds. Hmmmm…. I guess it’s all too far from SOSUS sensors.

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