2nd San Diego-based ship joins AirAsia recovery effort

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SAN DIEGO - A second San Diego-based Navy ship will join in the recovery effort for the Air Asia passenger jet that went missing Sunday amid stormy weather off Indonesia, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.

The USS Fort Worth joins the USS Sampson, which was tapped on Monday to help look for the Airbus A-320. It was carrying 162 passengers when it disappeared from radar screens minutes after the pilot requested an altitude change because of the weather conditions.

Both ships carry technology that will help in recovery efforts of the downed airliner.

"They may have what we call a remotely operated vehicle or an ROV," said Sean Newsome of SeaBotix.

Newsome is the Global Business Development Manager for SeaBotix, the San Diego-based company that makes the underwater device.

"These are basically a helicopter you think of that flies underwater," said Newsome.

The ROVs are equipped with cameras, lights, depth indicators and a tracking system. Its main job is to find and observe things.

"So we might say, ‘That looks like a section of the fuselage, let's go down and mark that or see what we can find,’" said Newsome.

The wreckage must first be recovered before the ROVs are sent in.  Task crews are currently trying to accomplish that using a side scan sonar.

"They're pulled behind a ship and they have very sensitive sonar equipment," said Werner Kurn, CEO of Ocean Enterprises.

Ocean Enterprises is a San Diego-based company that specializes in scuba diving equipment but also sells sonar technology.

"If we pull a side scan sonar over this transponder, the side scan sonar will recognize the beep and tell us there's an object down there," said Kurn.

The transponder is the locator on the plane's black box.  Search crews are now in a race against time to find it, since it usually has a life span of about two weeks.

The same type of sonar was used in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, but it was unsuccessful in finding the wreckage.  Kurn said it would be a different story with AirAsia 8501.

"We know where it crashed because we're finding debris now," said Kurn. "Once they know the area, they just have to pull the side scan sonar and we'll find the black box and other equipment right away."

The aircraft was a little over 40 minutes into a flight to Singapore from Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city.  The pilot's request for a change in altitude was denied because six other airplanes were in the area at higher flight levels. No other communications were heard, according to news reports.

Earlier Tuesday, authorities announced that some bodies and debris from the jet were found at sea -- turning the mission from a rescue effort to a recovery one.

The Navy said it was Indonesian authorities who requested assistance.  The 509-foot Sampson, which left San Diego Oct. 31 on an independent deployment, is a destroyer carrying a detachment from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 35, based at Naval Air Station North Island.

The 387-foot Fort Worth is one of the Navy's new littoral combat ships, which are designed for agility. It departed San Diego on Nov. 17 for its first deployment, a 16-month assignment in Southeast Asia.

At the time, Navy officials said the maiden deployment would include the first use of a drone helicopter aboard a deployed littoral combat ship. Besides the MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, the Fort Worth carries one MH-60R Seahawk chopper.

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