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April 17, 2014

Samples collected from oil slick not from plane

PERTH, Australia (AP) — Investigators were analyzing data collected by a robotic submarine that completed its first successful scan of the seabed Thursday in the hunt for the missing Malaysian plane, but say tests have ruled out that a nearby oil slick came from the aircraft.

The unmanned sub's first two missions were cut short by technical problems and deep water, but the Bluefin 21 finally managed to complete a full 16-hour scan of the silt-covered seabed far off Australia's west coast, the search coordination center said. While data collected during the mission, which ended overnight, were still being analyzed, nothing of note had yet been discovered, the center said. The sub has now covered 90 square kilometers (35 square miles) of seafloor.

Separately, the center said the oil analysis done in the western city of Perth came up empty when the samples tested negative for aircraft oil or hydraulic fluid. The oil was collected earlier this week from a slick about 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) from the area where equipment picked up underwater sounds consistent with an aircraft black box.

It was hoped that the oil would be evidence that officials are looking in the right place for Flight 370, which vanished March 8 while en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. Searchers have yet to find any physical proof that the sounds that led them to the ocean floor where the Bluefin has been deployed were from the ill-fated jet.

Twelve planes and 11 ships were scouring a 40,300-square-kilometer (15,600-square-mile) patch of sea for any debris that may be floating on the ocean surface, about 2,200 kilometers (1,400 miles) northwest of Perth.

Despite weeks of searching, no debris related to the jet has been found and earlier this week, search effort leader Angus Houston said the surface hunt would be ending within days. But the search coordination center on Thursday said crews would continue searching the ocean surface into next week.

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