28 Apr 2014

Missing MH370: finding debris ‘highly unlikely’

The Australian prime minister says a “new phase” of searching will begin, looking at a wider part of the Indian Ocean floor. But it may take up to eight months to find any sign of the missing plane.

Video: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and Angus Houston, head of the Joinst Agency Coordination Centre

Tony Abbott told a press conference in Canberra that the search effort would shift away from the searches from the air, conducted by planes and ships, in favour of scouring a wider section of the ocean floor with sophisticated sensors.

The search effort for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March with 239 people on board, has so far failed to turn up any trace of wreckage from the plane.

By this stage, 52 days into the search, most material would have become water logged and sunk Tony Abbott

Mr Abbott said: “I am now required to say to you that 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 water logged and sunk.”

He acknowledged the “tremendous work” work of the air crew from eight nations that had taken part in the search. But said that while search operations have so far been handled primarily as a military operation by the countries involved, one or more commercial companies would be hired by Australia and Malaysia to handle the next phase.

Six to eight month search

The new search area, which spans 700 km by 80 km (435 miles by 40 miles), could take between six and eight months to completely examine, at a cost to Australia of as much as A$60m (£33m).

Mr Abbott added: “No-one should under-estimate the degree of responsibility that Australia has here because this has happened in our search and rescue zone and there were, after all, six Australian citizens and one Australian resident on that aircraft as well as the citizens of Malaysia, China and other countries.”

Malaysia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Britain and the United States are assisting Australia in conducting the most expensive search in aviation history.

It remains unclear what caused the Boeing 777 to veer sharply off its course and disappear from radar as it prepared to cross into Vietnamese airspace.

Authorities had been focusing on a 10 square km stretch of seabed about 2,000 miles from Perth, after detecting what they suspected was a signal from the plane’s black box recorder on 4 April.

Photo: People pose in front of a banner of well wishes for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport