Search area not where MH370 crashed
THE search area in the Indian Ocean that recovery teams have been scouring for more than a month is likely not the final resting place of a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner, the Australian task force in charge of the operation said yesterday.
A US Navy underwater vehicle has been searching the ocean floor in an area west of Australia since early last month, after the detection of pings from what was then believed likely to be the black box recorders of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
The Boeing 777-200 aircraft vanished on March 8 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Raw satellite transmission data indicated the plane had veered sharply off course and had headed south into the Indian Ocean.
"The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has advised that the search in the vicinity of the acoustic detections can now be considered complete and, in its professional judgment, the area can now be discounted as the final resting place of MH370," the Australian Joint Agency Coordination Centre said in a statement.
The area had been the focus of the search since April 5 when an Australian ship, the Ocean Shield, detected a signal emitting a frequency suggesting it was from a black box that records flight and voice data.
At the time, Angus Houston, a retired Australian air chief marshal in charge of the operation, urged caution.
However, on April 9, after more signals were detected, Mr Houston told reporters in Perth that "I'm now optimistic that we will find the aircraft, or what is left of the aircraft, in the not-too-distant future".
Yesterday's announcement means that the search will focus on a much larger swathe of ocean than what the US Navy's Bluefin-21 submersible vehicle has searched since last month.
The unmanned, torpedo-shaped vehicle has searched more than 850 sq km of the ocean floor, looking for traces of the aircraft with its specialised sonar, the Australian statement said. Searchers are also mapping the area's ocean floor, which can be more than 15,000 ft deep.
Now the search, which will employ private contractors, will examine a much bigger area encompassing as much as 60,000 sq km, the statement said.
An ATSB spokesman said the search would remain "along the arc of the seventh ping" or the last signal picked up before the jet is thought to have hit the water.