Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced a “new phase” in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, with the search now to concentrate on the underwater search as it is “highly unlikely at this stage that we will find any aircraft debris on the ocean surface”.
Any material from the flight MH370, which disappeared 52 days ago with 239 passengers and crew on board, “would have become waterlogged and sunk”, Abbott told a press briefing today.
Airborne searches for wreckage are being scaled back. “This is probably the most difficult search in human history,” Abbott said.
The Prime Minister said there would now be “as thorough an undersea search as is humanly possible”.
The Bluefin-21 US Navy underwater drone has now searched an area of around 400 square kilometres and will continue its mission.
The next phase will be a undersea search run in part by commercial contractors and will include sonar equipment to scan the seabed. Abbott said organising this could take a few weeks and cost “in the order of $60 million”.
Abbott said search authorities “still have a considerable degree of confidence” that the pinger detections located in the current search zone off Western Australia are from a black box.
Chief Coordinator of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, Retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said today the next phase of the MH370 search could take up to eight months to complete.
Pointing to the Air France Flight 447 flight which went down in 2009 and took about two years to locate, Houston said the MH370 search operation is “the most demanding task in search terms that has ever been mounted to search for a lost aircraft”.
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