- By Alicia P.Q. WittmeyerAlicia P.Q. Wittmeyer is the Europe editor at Foreign Policy. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Forbes, among other places. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and master’s degrees from Peking University and the London School of Economics. The P.Q. stands for Ping-Quon.
A 17-foot-long drone submarine the United States dispatched to help trawl the Indian Ocean for signs of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has been pulled out of the hunt, at least temporarily, which means that the Pentagon no longer has any major military assets assisting in the search for the missing plane.
The Bluefin-21, which has been hunting for the plane since late March, is out of the water and on a ship bound for western Australia, Navy spokesman Chris Johnson said. The searchers hope to repair the sub on board the ship, using parts delivered by helicopter, and return it to the hunt. If they aren’t able to do so, the work will be finished in port.
Johnson said it wasn’t clear how long the Bluefin’s search would be put on hold for repairs, but said it wouldn’t go back to the Indian Ocean unless it was shipshape. Additional spare parts for the Bluefin are being sent from Britain and aren’t expected to arrive in Australia until Sunday, according to a Joint Agency press release.
The Australia-based Joint Agency Coordination Center, which is coordinating the hunt for MH370, could not be reached for comment.
The Bluefin began acting up during a dive Tuesday afternoon, when searchers aboard the ship Ocean Shield experienced trouble communicating with the sub, Johnson said. After about two hours in the water, they brought the Bluefin back to the surface to check on it. In the process, the sub collided with the Ocean Shield’s navigation transponder, damaging the transponder, the Bluefin’s propeller, and some of the sub’s electronics.
Prior to its untimely accident, the Bluefin, which is operated by Phoenix International Holdings, Inc., under a contract with the Navy, had been charged with scouring 154 square miles of the Indian Ocean. It’s the last of the Navy’s assets involved in the hunt for Flight 370, which has been missing since the early morning hours of March 8. At one point, the Navy had also dispatched P-8 Poseidon planes to participate in the hunt, but they were pulled back in late April once the Navy decided that there was no longer any real possibility of finding pieces of the airliner on the water’s surface.
Vessels from Australia, Malaysia, and China, in addition to an Australian aircraft, remain involved in the hunt.