Malaysia jet search to shift south
The next phase of the sea bed search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane will focus on an area of the Indian Ocean hundreds miles south of the first suspected crash site, it has emerged.
Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said an announcement would be made next week on where a 23,000 square-mile search of the ocean floor for wreckage, using powerful sonar equipment, will be focused.
Mr Dolan said he expected the most likely crash site would be hundreds of miles south of where a remote-controlled underwater drone scoured the sea bed, where acoustic signals suspected to have come from the Boeing 777's black boxes were thought to have emanated.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared with 239 passengers and crew on board after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing, on March 8.
The first fruitless search, which ended last month, was defined by the suspected flight recorder signals, which promised to be the best clue to finding the plane. But those signals are now widely thought to have come from some other source.
The new search area will not be based on new data, but refined analysis of existing satellite information from the doomed Boeing.
"All the trends of this analysis will move the search area south of where it was," Mr Dolan said. "Just how much south is something that we're still working on."
"There was a very complex analysis and there were several different ways of looking at it. Specialists have used several different methodologies and bringing all of that work together to get a consensus view is what we're finalising at the moment."
Private contractors are expected to start the new search far off the west Australian coast in August using powerful side-scan sonar equipment capable of probing ocean depths of 4.3 miles. The job is expected to take up to a year to complete.
Two survey ships are currently mapping uncharted expanses of sea bed in the search zone before the sonar scanning starts.
The search area is in the vast expanse of ocean that was swept for floating debris by aircraft in the weeks after the plane disappeared. No trace of the jet has been found.
Mr Dolan said the new search area would not be as far south west of the coastal city of Perth, Australia, as the initial air search had focused, near the limit of planes' range and in storm-prone seas.