New hope has emerged for the retrieval of the wreckage of Air France Flight 447, with a survey employing the use of three Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) called REMUS 6000 to find the debris. The vehicles, designed and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), will use side scan sonar to map the ocean floor in long overlapping lanes, using a survey process known as “mowing the lawn.” After the data from large-scale surveys are analyzed and smaller fields of interest are identified, the REMUS 6000s can then gather more detailed, up-close images on subsequent dives using their high-resolution cameras.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is part of an international sea search operation formed to locate the deep-sea wreck site of Air France Flight 447 and to retrieve the flight recorders from the Airbus A 330.
The search is expected to last for approximately one month.
Two of the AUVs are owned by the Waitt Institute for Discovery; the third is owned by IFM-GEOMAR of Germany.
These autonomous undersea vehicles are designed to operate in depths up to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet or 3.73 miles). As each vehicle covers an area in a “mowing” type pattern, it employs side-scan sonar to survey up to 600 meters to its left and right. Capable of staying underwater for up to 20 hours at a time, REMUS will then return to the ship, where scientists can immediately download its data. If the data contains evidence of any debris or other items of interest undersea, a REMUS 6000 will be dispatched to gather more detailed, up-close images using high-resolution cameras located on the bottom of the vehicle.
The mission will also employ the M/V Anne Candies, out of New Orleans, which will carry the towed side-scan sonar Orion and the CURV21 ROV, both operated for the US Navy by Phoenix International.
According to David Gallo, WHOI director of special projects and WHOI project leader, he is confident, “given the necessary time and resources” that the aircraft will be found. He estimates that the investigators, using the AUVs in tandem, will be able to search about 30 square miles a day.