Clock is ticking to find Malaysia Flight 370

NEW YORK (CNN) – The clock is ticking. Every second that passes diminishes the chance of finding missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and finally learning what happened on-board.

The so-called “black boxes”, the flight-data and cockpit-voice recorders, do have a locator beacon that can send out a signal. That transmitter will soon run out of power.

This debris may be the best hint yet at what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Even if it is from the missing plane, the real key to understanding what happened could still be miles away at the bottom of the ocean.

It’s calling, but time is running out.

“So the minute this is no longer broadcasting things become much more difficult,” said Jason Summers of Applied Research in Acoustics.

The cockpit voice recorder stores at least two hours of audio and the data recorder contains at least 36 hours of instrument data, both crucial to understanding what happened.

Transmitters on the recorders send out a locating tone, but that only lasts for 30 days. Malaysian officials say without the pings, they don’t have the technology to find it on their own.

“After the 30 days is up as what the French airlines had to go through then we’re looking at the submarine technology and before that becomes an issue, the Malaysian submarines do not have that technology,” said Hishammuddin Bin Hussein, Acting Minister of Transportation.

If the plane is in the water, the recorders may have sunk far from where any debris on the surface drifted. The water in the southern Indian Ocean can be 13-thousand feet deep, more than 10 times the height of the Empire State Building.

These tones can be heard from two miles away, but only by using special under water listening devices, planes even drop buoys like these to help listen.

One bit of good news: the data on the boxes is preserved long after the pingers go silent.

It took two years before investigators found the recorders belonging to Air France Flight 447 on the bottom of the Atlantic.  The data was still there.

Even if they do find them in this case, since the cockpit voice recorder is only two hours long there is no guarantee it will answer every question as to what happened to Flight 370.

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