The launch of the Blue-fin 21 autonomous underwater vehicle on Monday marked a new phase in the six week search for Malaysia Airlines MH370 which disappeared on March 8 and is presumed to have crashed thousands of kilometres (miles) off course with the loss of all 239 people on board. (Search for missing jet to move to dark depths of Indian Ocean)
Searchers are confident they know the approximate position of wreckage of the Boeing 777, some 1,550 km (963 miles) northwest of Perth, and are moving ahead on the basis of four acoustic signals they believe are from its black box recorders.
But having not heard a "ping" for almost a week and with the batteries on the locator beacons two weeks past their 30-day expected life, a decision was made on Monday to launch the slow-moving undersea drone to try and locate wreckage. (In jet search, China is viewed as more hurt than help)
"After completing around six hours of its mission, Bluefin-21 exceeded its operating depth limit of 4,500 metres and its built in safety feature returned it to the surface," the Australian agency coordinating the search and recovery operation said.
"The six hours of data gathered by the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is currently being extracted and analysed."
Malaysian authorities have still not ruled out mechanical problems as causing the plane's disappearance, but say evidence suggests it was deliberately diverted from its scheduled route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The Blue-fin robot will build up a detailed acoustic image of the area using sophisticated 'sidescan' sonar, hoping to repeat its success in finding a F-15 fighter jet which crashed off Japan last year.
It had been expected to spend up to 16 hours scouring the silty sea floor, after a two hour descent. If it detects possible wreckage, it will be sent back to photograph it in underwater conditions with extremely low light.
Officials are currently focusing their acoustic search on an area about the size of a medium city - 600 sq km (230 sq miles) - and say it could take the underwater robot months to scan and map the whole search zone.
The search for the missing plane is on track to be the most difficult and expensive search and recovery operation in aviation history.
Get Breaking news, live coverage, and Latest News from India and around the world on NDTV.com. Catch all the Live TV action on NDTV 24x7 and NDTV India. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter and Instagram for latest news and live news updates.