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Slow, difficult task ahead as robotic sub takes up search for Flight 370

Monday - 4/14/2014, 4:30pm  ET

PERTH, Australia (AP) -- Search crews are sending a robotic submarine to the bottom of the Indian Ocean in hopes of finding the missing Malaysian airliner, but officials coordinating the effort caution that the public needs to be realistic about its chances for success.

The Bluefin 21 can create a three-dimensional sonar map of the ocean floor. It's being deployed in a series of missions that will take 24 hours to complete: two hours to dive to the bottom, followed by a 16-hour search, then two more hours back to the surface and four hours to download the data.

In its first mission, the Bluefin is expected to cover 15-square miles. But while the full search area has been narrowed greatly, it remains more than 18,000-square miles.

And the ocean is very deep there, with the seafloor about 15,000 feet below the surface, the deepest the Bluefin can dive.

Searchers are also contending with a thick layer of silt on the bottom, which could hide any debris.

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156-a-12-(Ian Wright, director, science and technology, National Oceanographic Center, in AP interview)-"next logical step"-Ian Wright of Britain's National Oceanographic Center says since the missing plane's black box "pingers" have apparently run out of battery strength, it makes sense to turn to a phase two of the search by using unmanned, deep-sea vehicles. (14 Apr 2014)

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158-a-15-(Ian Wright, director, science and technology, National Oceanographic Center, in AP interview)-"months to locate"-Ian Wright of Britain's National Oceanographic Center says the methodical search for the missing plane will be slow going with the underwater technology employed. (14 Apr 2014)

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157-a-16-(Ian Wright, director, science and technology, National Oceanographic Center, in AP interview)-"the sea floor (fourth reference)"-Ian Wright of Britain's National Oceanographic Center says the submarine vehicle in use will be able to provide three-dimensional views of the topography almost 5000 yards below the surface. (14 Apr 2014)

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149-a-13-(Navy Capt. Mark Matthews, with reporters)-"is gonna be"-Navy Captain Mark Matthews says this is a real test for the search equipment that the U.S. navy is offering to the effort. (14 Apr 2014)

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148-a-17-(Navy Capt. Mark Matthews, with reporters)-"on the bottom"-Navy Captain Mark Matthews says the robotic submarine is dragging a U.S. Navy device used to listen for sounds from the plane's black boxes. (14 Apr 2014)

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150-a-16-(Navy Capt. Mark Matthews, with reporters)-"of the object"-Navy Captain Mark Matthews says U.S. Navy listening equipment used in the search may be affected by the makeup of the ocean floor. (14 Apr 2014)

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APPHOTO TOK101: FILE - In this April 1, 2014 file photo, provided by the U.S. Navy, the Bluefin 21 autonomous sub is hoisted back on board the Australian Defense Vessel Ocean Shield after successful buoyancy testing in the Indian Ocean, as search efforts continue for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Search crews will send the sub deep into the Indian Ocean on Monday, April 14, 2014, for the first time to try to determine whether signals detected by sound-locating equipment are from the missing Malaysian plane's black boxes, the Australian head of the search said. Angus Houston said the crew on board the Ocean Shield will launch the underwater vehicle sometime Monday evening. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy, Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Blair, File) (1 Apr 2014)

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APPHOTO SYD102: In this map provided on Monday, April 14, 2014, by the Joint Agency Coordination Centre details are presented in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean. The hunt for the missing Malaysian airliner continued on Monday to focus on a search for weakening radio signals from deep beneath the waves despite evidence mounting that the batteries in the plane's all-important black boxes may finally have died. (AP Photo/Joint Agency Coordination Centre) EDITORIAL USE ONLY (14 Apr 2014)

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APPHOTO SYD105: In this map provided on Monday, April 14, 2014, by the Joint Agency Coordination Centre details are presented in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean. The hunt for the missing Malaysian airliner continued on Monday to focus on a search for weakening radio signals from deep beneath the waves despite evidence mounting that the batteries in the plane's all-important black boxes may finally have died. (AP Photo/Joint Agency Coordination Centre) EDITORIAL USE ONLY (14 Apr 2014)

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APPHOTO SYD106: In this map provided on Monday, April 14, 2014, by the Joint Agency Coordination Centre details are presented in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean. The hunt for the missing Malaysian airliner continued on Monday to focus on a search for weakening radio signals from deep beneath the waves despite evidence mounting that the batteries in the plane's all-important black boxes may finally have died. (AP Photo/Joint Agency Coordination Centre) EDITORIAL USE ONLY (14 Apr 2014)

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