Sydney • Australian authorities looking for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet said Thursday that an oil slick detected in the search zone and collected by the Australian vessel Ocean Shield was not engine oil or hydraulic fluid from an aircraft.
The sample was collected Sunday night more than three miles from the area where Ocean Shield had picked up underwater acoustic signals.
“Preliminary analysis of the sample collected by ADV Ocean Shield has confirmed that it is not aircraft engine oil or hydraulic fluid,” the Joint Agency Coordination Center said in a statement released Thursday.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 veered off course March 8 during an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. To date, no wreckage has been found. The strongest leads so far are four acoustic signals from underwater, the last of which was picked up April 8 as the Ocean Shield towed a pinger locator through the Indian Ocean. Ocean Shield is about 1,000 miles northwest of Perth, the capital of Western Australia, while the main search area for potential wreckage is almost 1,500 miles northwest of the city.
The acoustic signals are thought to have come from the plane’s flight data recorders.
At the briefing Monday, Houston said searchers would use a remote-controlled submersible, the Bluefin-21, to scan the floor of the Indian Ocean, which is believed to be up to 2.8 miles deep in the search area, for the plane’s wreckage.
On Monday, the search for additional acoustic signals was abandoned in favor of deploying the Bluefin submersible, but it had to return to the ocean’s surface on its first mission after exceeding its maximum depth of 2.8 miles. On Wednesday morning, the Bluefin was also forced to resurface again after technical problems. It was redeployed Wednesday and overnight Thursday and completed a full mission in the search area.
“Initial analysis of the data downloaded indicates no significant detections,” the Australian agency said in a statement.
The submersible, towed by the Ocean Shield and operated by a U.S. team from the contractor Phoenix International, crawls just above the seabed, with each deployment lasting up to 20 hours. It takes two hours for the Bluefin to descend, 16 hours to conduct the search, and two hours to return to the surface. Analysts then need four hours to download and analyze the data.