MH370 search zone to double if nothing found: officials
KUALA LUMPUR - Agence France-Presse
A family member of a passenger missing on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, holds a poster depicting the flight during a protest near the Malaysian embassy in Beijing on March 8, 2015. AFP PhotoThe search zone for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will be doubled if nothing is found in the huge undersea area now being scanned for wreckage, Malaysia, Australia and China announced Thursday.
A joint statement released after ministers from the three countries met in Kuala Lumpur said the Indian Ocean search zone would be expanded to 120,000 square kilometres (46,300 square miles) if the current area comes up empty.
"Based on the advice of the experts of the search strategy working group, if the aircraft is not found within the current 60,000 square kilometres search area, we have collectively decided to extend the search by an additional 60,000 square kilometres within the highest-probability area," Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said at a press briefing following their meeting.
The meeting also included Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss and China's Minister of Transport Yang Chuantang.
The Boeing 777 with 239 passengers and crew aboard mysteriously veered off its route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, creating one of the world's greatest aviation mysteries and sparking a massive international effort to find it.
About 60 percent of an initial suspected crash area -- determined by satellite signals indicating the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean -- has already been searched in the Australian-led, high-tech effort to scan a forbiddingly deep sea floor.
The three officials said in the statement that searching the new area could drag the effort out for another year due to the difficulties faced by the operation in the remote and storm-tossed seas.
Truss said it would take "at least the rest of this year."
"As the new search area surrounds the old one, you can assume the seabed is broadly similar," he said.
Weather, the extreme depths being searched, and the rugged nature of the underwater territory in the zone about 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) off Australia's west coast have made for a slow, frustrating search.
Australian authorities had earlier said the current search was expected to be completed in May. Angry next-of-kin -- who have accused Malaysia of bungling its initial response and being slow to share information, have issued emotional pleas for authorities to continue searching even if no debris is found in the current area.
Truss said Australia and Malaysia would continue to share the costs of the expensive search.
"Both our governments are committed to making sure we can do this job properly," Truss said.
"We have the best equipment in the world and we are satisfied the search is being conducted in a very professional way."
The meeting also discussed possible next steps if wreckage is found so that a recovery operation can quickly swing into action.