The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight is at “a very critical juncture”, with the area officials believe the wreckage could be in narrowing significantly over the next two days, Malaysia’s acting transport minister has said.
The search of a tight 10 km (6.2 mile) circle of the sea floor by a US Navy underwater drone could be completed within a week, Australian search officials said on Saturday.
The area has been determined based on underwater pings believed to be from the plane's black box recorders, meaning if analysis has been correct and the signal’s were coming from the boxes, remnants from the doomed flight should be located.
The almost two month long search for the plane after it disappeared from radars on 8 March has so far brought no sign of wreckage, and officials have little answer as to what happened in the final hours of the flight.
“Provided the weather is favourable for launch and recovery of the AUV and we have a good run with the serviceability of the AUV, we should complete the search of the focused underwater area in five to seven days,” the Joint Agency Coordination Centre told Reuters in an email.
Officials did not indicate whether they were confident that this search area would yield any new information about the flight, nor did they state what steps they would take in the event that the underwater search were to prove fruitless.
“It is important to focus on today and tomorrow. Narrowing of the search area today and tomorrow is at a very critical juncture,” Malaysian Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a media conference in Kuala Lumpur, asking for people to pray for success.
Malaysia was asking oil companies and others in the commercial sector to provide assets that might help in the search, Mr Hishammuddin added, after earlier saying more AUVs might be used.
After almost two weeks without picking up any acoustic signals, and long past the black box battery's 30-day life expectancy, authorities are increasingly reliant on the unmanned Bluefin-21 drone, which on Saturday was expected to have dived to unprecedented depths that could risk the equipment.
Because visual searches of the ocean surface have yielded no concrete evidence, the drone, with its ability to search deep beneath the ocean surface with “side scan” sonar, has become the focal point of the search 1,200 miles northwest of the Australian city of Perth.
But hopes that it might soon guide searchers to wreckage are dwindling with no sign of the plane after six deployments spanning 83 square miles. Footage from the drone's sixth mission was still being analysed, the Joint Agency Coordination Centre said on Saturday.