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ROVs fail to find Japanese missing in tsunami

The probes transmitted eerie images of sunken cars, debris, and personal effects, but the Pacific did not give up any missing victims from last month's disaster.

The underwater ROVs found sunken cars and lots of debris, but no bodies. IRS

TOKYO--An international team of robotics and engineering specialists used remotely operated underwater vehicles to search for human remains in coastal areas of Japan flattened by last month's tsunami but failed to find any of the missing, the group said Sunday.

The International Rescue System Institute, working with the Texas-based Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR), searched the waters off the annihilated communities of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, and Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture.

Members used a Seamor ROV and a Seabotix SARbot. The diving machines turned up sunken cars, flotsam, and personal effects but no bodies.

Robin Murphy of Texas A&M University, director of CRASAR, was involved in the search, as were other U.S. colleagues.

"One lesson learned for future research is that we need simulation software that predicts where debris will go after a tsunami or hurricane (different versions since we believe the water behavior is different for those events)," Murphy blogged.

Working with the Japanese Coast Guard, the group used the ROVs to examine houses swept out to sea where dangerous conditions prohibit divers from searching for victims of the tsunami, which left thousands dead or missing in the towns.

The researchers also used the machines to check whether submerged debris poses a threat to fishing boats, which are important to the local economy.

The video below, shot by the SARbot with image enhancement, shows a glove that Murphy and colleagues first took for a hand. They were told to expect bodies pinned under debris or partly buried in silt.