Missing MH370: Race on to find plane's black box

With roughly 16 days left and 600,000 sq km to cover, it will be a frantic race against time to locate the missing plane's black box - the key to unravelling the mystery of MH370's disappearance.

Although fairly indestructible - it is meant to survive the worst plane crashes after all - the black box does have a limited battery life and, after about 30 days, it will stop emitting the tracking ping that allows it to be located. The plane was last detected on March 8.

No wonder then, that Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the priority was to locate the plane and its black box.

"I guess Malaysia is running against time to search for the black box. Therefore, it is very important to detect the black box.

"I gave my assurance that we will do our best as a friend and neighbour," Indonesian Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said on Wednesday.

The black box, which is actually orange in colour, contains two crucial pieces of shoebox-size aviation technology: A digital flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder.

The cockpit recorder, which stores radio communications as well as all dialogue and activity sounds in the cockpit, is likely to be less helpful, say experts. This is because it captures only the latest two hours of cockpit action.

Given that the plane is thought to have flown on for several hours after it veered off its scheduled route, the recorder is no longer expected to contain information about key events, such as when the transponder was deactivated.

Investigators expect to be able to glean more answers from the digital flight data recorder, which contains technical data such as air speed, altitude, pitch and instrumental readings, including cabin pressure and engine temperature.

But first, they have to find it.

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