City sailor joins hunt for lost Malaysian plane

Ben Dixon is serving on HMS Echo. Picture: comp
Ben Dixon is serving on HMS Echo. Picture: comp
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A SAILOR from Edinburgh is playing a key role in the hunt for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight as search teams close in on signals that could be coming from a black box flight recorder.

Chief Petty Officer Ben Dixon is on board Royal Navy survey ship HMS Echo, which was redeployed to assist in the hunt for the airliner.

The Plymouth-based vessel had been carrying out survey work in the Middle East before receiving instructions to join the international search effort in the southern Indian Ocean.

CPO Dixon, 32, a marine engineering technician, is in charge of keeping the ship’s engines running as it combs the sea for signs of Flight MH370.

The airliner disappeared on March 8, carrying 239 people, and is believed to have gone down in the southern Indian Ocean with no survivors. It was travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it lost contact with air traffic controllers.

An Australian vessel heard signals again on Tuesday afternoon and evening that could be consistent with a black box.

CPO Dixon is part of the engineering branch on board HMS Echo. He said: “As Propulsion Group head, my roles include maintaining the main engines and electrical propulsion drives. The pressure has been on to reach the search area in good time and to have the required driving force to complete our tasking.

“I feel privileged to be granted the opportunity to assist in bringing at least some closure to the families and loved ones of those involved.”

CPO Dixon, who lives in Edinburgh, attended St Margaret’s Academy in Livingston and joined the Royal Navy in 2003. His career has been varied, including counter-narcotics work in the West Indies and disaster relief following a hurricane in St Lucia.

HMS Echo was mid-way through an 18-month deployment when she was re-tasked – by that time she had visited Bahrain, Dubai, Oman, the Seychelles and the Maldives.

After 60 consecutive days at sea, HMS Echo is likely to call into an Australian port to replenish supplies before resuming search and recovery patrols in the Indian Ocean. As the search continues, the Australian vessel, Ocean Shield, has been towing a US Navy pinger locator to listen for signals from the plane’s flight recorders in waters west of Perth. The possible black box signals have been detected by Ocean Shield.

On Tuesday, it located the signals again, the first time for five minutes and 32 seconds, and the second time for around seven minutes.

The signals seem to be fading, which is consistent with black box batteries going flat.

Wide range of survey work

HMS Echo was launched at Appledore in Devon in 2002, and was designed to carry out a wide range of survey work, including support to submarine and amphibious operations through the collection of oceanographic data.

Her survey motor boat, Sapphire, is capable of operating independent supporting a small group of surveyors who can live and work ashore.

Echo iwas the first Royal Navy ship to use azimuth thrusters, where the propellers are part of a swivelling pod, allowing for precise manoeuvring.

Capable of collecting an array of military hydrographic and oceanographic data, Echo is equipped to support mine warfare and amphibious operations. She is armed and can carry a small detachment of Royal Marines.