Sydney Morning Herald
April 28, 2014
The search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will enter a new phase after 52 days of searching failed to find any sign of the plane wreckage, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced.
On Monday, Mr Abbott said it was highly unlikely that any debris from the plane would be found on the ocean surface.
But Mr Abbott defended the search operation in the southern Indian Ocean, saying authorities remain confident that signals detected weeks ago were from a black box recorder.
“Most difficult search in human history”: Prime Minister Tony Abbott addresses the media with the chief of the Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.
Speaking in Canberra, Mr Abbott said the “most difficult search in human history” would switch its focus to underwater operations over an expanded area – roughly 700 kilometres by 80 kilometres.
The Bluefin-21 submersible, which has been criticised as unreliable, will still be used to search the ocean floor, along with specialised sonar equipment towed by ships that will scan the seabed for wreckage.
“We will do everything we humanly can, everything we reasonably can, to solve this mystery. We will not let people down,” Mr Abbott said.
“While the search will be moving to a new phase in coming weeks, it certainly is not ending.
“By this stage, 52 days into the search, most material would have become waterlogged and sunk.
“With the distances involved, all of the aircraft are operating at close to the limit of sensible and safe operation. Therefore, we are moving from the current phase to a phase which is focused on searching the ocean floor over a much larger area.”
The new search phase will cost “in the order of $60 million”, Mr Abbott said.
MH370 vanished on March 8 carrying 239 people, including six Australians.
It would be a “terrible outcome” for the families of those on board if the plane was not found, Mr Abbott said.
Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who has been co-ordinating the search, said the revised search could take up to eight months to complete.
He said searchers were still confident they were searching in the right area.
“If everything goes perfectly, I would say we will be doing well if we do it in eight months,” he said.
“But then you have issues, potential issues, with weather, potential issues with equipment. Witness what’s happened with the ‘Bluefin-21′, a number of teething problems with it.”
Mr Abbott defended his handling of the search and his declaration at the time the signals were detected that searchers were confident they were in the right area.
“Our way of operating at all times has been to release credible information as soon as we’ve had it so that we could be as transparent as possible,” Mr Abbott said.
“We still have a considerable degree of confidence that the detections that were picked up using the equipment deployed from Ocean Shield were from a black box recorder.
“We are still baffled and disappointed that we haven’t been able to find undersea wreckage based on those detections.”
A preliminary report into the plane’s disappearance by the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organisation has been handed to Malaysian authorities and is expected to be released to the public this week. The report is expected to recommend real-time tracking of commercial aircraft.