What if Malaysian flight recorder is empty?

NEW YORK (CNN) – The clock is ticking as search teams scour the Indian Ocean and beyond for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and its all-important flight data and voice recorders. Could the search for the so-called “black box” end up being for nothing?

Time is running out to find the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder for Flight 370.

The devices could be miles underwater. The pinging signals they send only have a range of a few miles and their batteries are only required to last 30 days.

“It is a needle in a haystack, and obviously, it becomes substantially more difficult to find them once the pingers have gone silent,” said Aviation Analyst Steven Wallace.

The flight data recorder tracks 80 or more data points during the flight, including the plane’s pitch, altitude, speed, cabin pressure, the placement of the yoke and the throttle and automation codes, like whether the pilots turned it manually, used auto-pilot or a combination of both.

That kind of information is essential to figuring out what happened.

“There is a rich amount of data on that flight data recorder assuming it’s intact, it’s found and some circuit breaker wasn’t pulled,” said Aviation Analyst Miles O’Brien.

That’s right, there’s a possibility both recorders were shut off, either because the circuit breakers were intentionally pulled or due to a catastrophic power failure.

Even if investigators find both devices, there’s a big chance we won’t hear any voices on the voice data recorder. Why? Unlike the flight data recorder, which goes for 36 hours, the voice recorder only records on a two-hour loop.

So if the plane kept flying for seven hours or more, as authorities believe, we may not ever know what was happening at that critical point early on when it changed course.

Experts say even if the device was deliberately shut off, that doesn’t mean investigators would be out of luck because it would still record the moment the breaker was pulled.

Why is it even possible to shut off these devices?

“Pilots want to be able to turn everything off if they can. If you have an electrical fire and you’re trying to figure out what’s going on, you need to have the capability of taking the energy out of every box you have, so that’s a safety thing,” said O’Brien.

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