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Plane search area could be expanded

Malaysia has said the search area for missing Flight 370 will be expanded by another 60,000 square kilometres (23,000 square miles) in the Indian Ocean if the airliner is not found by May.

Transport minister Liow Tiong Lai said Malaysia, Australia and China, which are leading the search for the Boeing 777 that went missing on March 8 last year, are "committed to the search".

After meeting his counterparts from the other two countries, he said 61% of the current search area had so far been scoured off Australia's west coast. The remaining area will have been covered by the end of May, he said.

"If the aircraft is not found within the 60,000 square kilometres, we have collectively decided to extend the search to another 60,000 square kilometres within the highest probability area," he said.

He added that the two areas together would cover 95% of the Indian Ocean flight path of the plane, which went missing on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

It dropped off radar, and investigators later figured out that it made a series of turns and headed in the opposite direction from where it was heading before crashing into the Indian Ocean.

"We are confident we are searching in the right area," Australian transport minister Warren Truss said. "We are confident we have the best search equipment. If the plane is in the area we will find it."

He said Malaysia and Australia will continue to fund the cost of the next phase of the search.

Mr Truss said: "Australia and Malaysia have been sharing the cost and we will continue to do that. We are confident we will be able to fund whatever is necessary."

In the first phase, 120 million Australian dollars (£62 million) was spent by the two countries, split equally, and Mr Liow said the next phase is estimated to cost 50 million Australian dollars (£26 million).

The next phase will cost less because the equipment has already been purchased.

The two ministers said they expect the second phase of the search to take the rest of this year, but it is likely to be hindered by bad weather as winter sets in soon in the southern hemisphere.

In late January, Malaysia's government formally declared the plane's disappearance an accident and said all those on board were presumed dead. A comprehensive report into the disappearance found no significant anomalies in the flight, except that the battery of the locator beacon for the plane's data recorder had expired more than a year before the jet vanished.

That still does not explain what caused the plane to veer so off course in what has become aviation's biggest mystery that continues to confound experts and investigators alike.

At the same time, the relatives of the dead have got no closure and many believe that their loved ones may be alive amid a host of conspiracy theories including one that the plane was hijacked and landed somewhere safely.


From Belfast Telegraph