Missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370: Air search called off as new area of focus on ocean floor announced

Prime Minister Tony Abbott's announcement comes as the aerial search comes to an end

The search area for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will be expanded to include a large new part of the ocean floor, in an operation that may take eight months to complete, Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced on Monday.

For over two weeks, a US Navy Bluefin 21 submarine has been scouring the remote Indian Ocean search area off Australia’s west coast for weeks, but the whereabouts of the aircraft remain unknown since it veered off course on 8 March.

The unmanned submarine has created a 3D sonar map of the ocean floor near where signals consistent with aeroplane black boxes were heard on 8 April.

Meanwhile, the six-week-long aerial search for the plane will officially end on Monday, the search coordination centre confirmed, and the team will introduce new equipment that can analyse a larger patch of the seabed for the plane and its missing 239 passengers and crew.

Mr Abbott told reporters on Monday: “It is highly unlikely at this stage that we will find any aircraft debris on the ocean surface. By this stage, 52 days into the search, most material would have become waterlogged and sunk.

“Therefore, we are moving from the current phase to a phase which is focused on searching the ocean floor over a much larger area.”

 

Since the focus of the hunt switched to the Indian Ocean 41 days ago, search teams have trawled more than 4.5 million square kilometres of ocean, with 10 civil aircraft , 19 military planes and 14 ships carrying out visual searches for debris bobbing on the ocean surface.

The next stage of the search – already the most expensive in aviation history – will cost at least A$60m (£33m) and could take six to eight months. But Mr Abbott pledged that Australia would “do everything we humanly can, everything we reasonably can, to solve this mystery”.

Crews will now begin searching the plane's entire probable impact zone, an area 430 miles long and 50 miles wide, Mr Abbott said.

But Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the search effort, cautioned that the search will take time.

"If everything goes perfectly, I would say we'll be doing well if we do it in eight months,"Houston said, adding that weather and technical issues could prolong the search well beyond that estimate.

Officials will now look to recruit private companies to supply additional sonar mapping equipment that can be towed behind boats, to search the expanded area at an estimated cost of $60million.

As it make take several weeks to organise the contracts, the Bluefin will continue to search the seabed in the meantime, Mr Abbott said.

While each country involved in the search has so far been bearing its own costs, Mr Abbott said Australia would now seek contributions from other countries to help pay for the new equipment.

Read more: Cyclone halts MH370 search
Grieving families to start lawsuits

Two weeks after Mr Abbott said officials were “very confident” that a series of underwater ‘pings’ were from the flight’s black-boxes, he admitted: “We're still baffled and disappointed that we haven't been able to find undersea wreckage based on those detections, and this is one of the reasons why we are continuing to deploy the Bluefin 21 submersible — because this is the best information that we've got."

“It may turn out to be a false lead, but nevertheless it's the best lead we've got," he added.

Abbott also acknowledged it was possible that no debris from the plane would ever be found.

“Of course it's possible, but that would be a terrible outcome because it would leave families with a baffling uncertainty forever,” he said.

"The aircraft plainly cannot disappear — it must be somewhere — and we are going to do everything we reasonably can, even to the point of conducting the most intensive undersea search which human ingenuity currently makes possible of some 60,000 square kilometers under the sea.”

“We are going to do all these things because we do not want this crippling cloud of uncertainty to hang over these families and the wider traveling public,” he said.

Additional reporting by AP

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London