Titanic finder warns time of essence in search for Malaysia plane’s black boxes

Robert Ballard raises doubt over debris being related to missing flight

The man who discovered the wreck of the

Titanic

has warned time is running out

to find the black boxes of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane to solve the “mystery” of its disappearance.

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Dr Robert Ballard, who was in Belfast yesterday evening for the opening of a new ocean exploration attraction at the Titanic Belfast visitor centre, also expressed doubts about whether the debris discovered in the southern Indian Ocean related to the flight. As well as discovering the wreck of the Titanic in 1985, Dr Ballard (71) was involved in finding the wrecks of the Bismarck battleship and the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown and John F Kennedy's PT-109 second World War torpedo boat.

Air France
Dr Ballard also worked for 30 years with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. It located the Air France Flight 447 plane which crashed in the Atlantic in 2009 with the loss of 228 passengers and crew.

“When you have lost something the first question that is asked is where did you lose it? You can’t do anything until you can narrow the search and right now the search area is getting bigger not smaller,” he said.

The possible location appeared to be "changing oceans" from day to day, he added. What was vital was to localise the search area and to do that before the batteries on the craft's black boxes ran out of power. "They have 30 days from when the plane went down. That's when the clock started," he said. Dr Ballard, who delivered a lecture at the Titanic centre yesterday evening, agreed that there were almost elements of the Mary Celeste mystery to the case.

1.5 million people
More than 1.5 million people have visited the Titanic centre since it opened almost two years ago, far exceeding the 295,000 visitors the North's audit office judged were necessary annually to make the attraction viable. Dr Ballard added that it was important the centre should keep evolving to remain attractive and that was what was happening with the opening of the new ocean exploration centre, which is overseen by Donegal scientist Susan Heaney.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times