Underseas search for missing MH370 to expand: Australia
By Madeleine Coorey, AFP
April 29, 2014, 12:03 am TWN
SYDNEY--Australia's prime minister Monday announced an expanded search across a huge swathe of seabed where flight MH370 might have crashed seven weeks ago, admitting it is now "highly unlikely" that any surface wreckage will be found.
A massive hunt for the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 in the southern Indian Ocean has so far yielded nothing on the surface or below, baffling authorities who are struggling to explain the loss of the aircraft.
"I regret to say that thus far, none of our efforts in the air, on the surface, or undersea have found any wreckage," Tony Abbott said.
"It is highly unlikely at this stage that we will find any aircraft debris on the ocean surface," he added, noting that a surface area of more than 4,500,000 square kilometers had been scanned.
"By this stage, 52 days into the search, most material would have become water-logged and sunk."
Abbott said the search would now enter a new phase involving undersea efforts being ramped up, with authorities scouring the ocean floor over an area of nearly 60,000 square kilometers.
"If necessary, of the entire probable impact zone which is roughly 700 kilometers by 80 kilometers," he said when asked about the extent of the search area.
The search zone has been defined by analysis of satellite data, and was boosted by several detections of transmissions believed to have come from the plane's black box recorders before their batteries died.
But a submersible Bluefin-21 scouring a 400-square kilometer zone centered around one of these transmissions has failed to yield results, prompting Abbott to announce a hugely expanded underwater search involving different technology, possibly a specialized side-scan sonar.
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Abbott said the Australian government, in consultation with Malaysian authorities, was willing to engage one or more commercial companies to undertake the work.
He estimated it would cost AU$60 million (US$55.8 million) and take six to eight months.
Until now, the eight nations involved in the Indian Ocean search — Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, United States, Britain and China — have been bearing their own costs, but Abbott said Canberra would ask for help in funding the next stage.
"We will be seeking some appropriate contribution from other nations involved; but we will ensure that this search goes ahead," he said.