Missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370: Officials confirm Indian Ocean search area is not final resting place of lost plane

US Navy official says 'pings' most likely came from the search ship itself

The Indian Ocean search area where "pings" were heard in the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is not the final resting place of the lost Boeing 777, officials have confirmed.

The unmanned submersible vehicle Bluefin 21 has now completed its seven-week mission scouring a stretch of seabed around 1,000 miles (1,600km) off the coast of Perth, Australia - and drawn a complete blank.

Despite the most expensive recovery effort in aviation history, since the jet vanished on 8 March with 239 people on board, not a single physical trace of MH370 has been found.

The plane was tracked to the southern Indian Ocean following analysis of data from the British satellite firm Inmarsat, and an underwater search began after a towed "pinger locator" detected acoustic signals in early April.

A statement issued today by the Joint Agency Coordination Centre in Perth said: "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 judgement, the area can now be discounted as the final resting place of MH370."

According to Michael Dean, the US Navy's deputy director of ocean engineering, it now seems most likely that the "pings", upon which so much of the recovery effort has relied, actually came from the search vessel itself.

Mr Dean told CNN yesterday: "Our best theory at this point is that (the pings were) likely some sound produced by the ship ... or within the electronics of the Towed Pinger Locator.

"Always your fear any time you put electronic equipment in the water is that if any water gets in and grounds or shorts something out, that you could start producing sound," he said, adding that the other countries involved in the search had come to the same conclusion.

A spokesperson for the US Navy said Mr Dean's comments were "speculative and premature" and that it would defer to Australia's lead "as we work with our partners to more thoroughly understand the data acquired by the Towed Pinger Locator".

Officials had previously described the 850 sq km (320 sq mile) "ping" search area as their best lead in the recovery effort, but the authorities have nonetheless insisted they remain "absolutely convinced" the findings from the broader satellite data remain accurate.

The search area has now been extended to a 60,000 sq km (23,100 sq mile) zone which will be surveyed by a Chinese vessel before the challenge is passed over to a commercial operator. The much wider mission is expected to start in August, and could take up to a year.

Earlier this week, the Malaysian government released some of the raw satellite data it used to determine that the flight ended in the southern Indian Ocean, a step long demanded by the families of some of the passengers on board.

The conclusion is based on complex calculations derived largely from brief hourly transmissions, or "handshakes", between the plane and a communications satellite.

But while the 45 pages of information may help satisfy a desire for more transparency in a much-criticised investigation, experts say it's unlikely to solve the mystery of Flight MH370.

Additional reporting by agencies

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