Alameda company could help find Malaysian Air wreckage

A new phase has begun in the search for the missing Malaysia jetliner.
April 4, 2014 6:53:55 PM PDT
A new phase has begun in the search for the missing Malaysia jetliner.

Two ships with high-tech equipment launched in the underwater hunt for the plane, or its black boxes. There are only a few days left before pings from the plane's two data recorders could stop transmitting.

The plane vanished over the Indian Ocean four weeks ago Friday and the batteries on the black boxes will likely soon run out.

Even after the airplane's black boxes stop sending out a signal, the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 will continue. And, while it will be more difficult, finding the aircraft won't be impossible thanks to an Alameda company that has high-tech underwater rovers deployed worldwide.

Chances are that, after a month, the batteries inside Flight 370's black box will fail before they lead searchers to that wreckage of the airline. But, that won't mean the end of the investigation.

How does that saying go? If you get a big job, find an appropriate tool, or in the case of a company called Deep Ocean Engineering, design and build it.

"It is far from easy. It's extremely difficult if you do not know exactly where to look for. And, even if you know exactly where to look for, it's still hard," said Deep Ocean engineer Joseph Loanzon.

Loanzon helped design a remotely operated vehicle now under construction in Alameda. It's designed to search for and grab miles below the ocean surface.

"The pressures are extreme. You know, you've got, basically, at full ocean depth, you've got about 16,000 pounds per square-inch, bearing down on everything," said Deep Ocean Engineering CEO Liz Taylor.

Taylor runs the company and knows that she, and her crew could very well be the next, last resort, if or when, that wreckage turns up on the bottom.

But in the same way that search planes and ships have been chasing blips that turned out to be garbage rather than the 777, a device like hers using multi-beam, bottom painting sonar, will also, inevitably, be chasing false leads.

"We've put so much out in the ocean in terms of pollution, waste and sound, that it's really making our job a lot harder," said Taylor.

So, from a race to hear and then retrieve the fading signal of a black box, we now transition to a search that could last weeks, months or years.

"Well, again, you search for the debris field. You know, look how many years the Titanic was unfound," said Taylor.

Technology that solved one mystery now applied to another.


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