The search for the missing Flight MH370 will now revert to an area hundreds of kilometers south of the first suspected crash site, an official said today, as months of fruitless scouring in the Indian Ocean has failed to crack the unprecedented aviation mystery.
In a dramatic development in the hunt for the Malaysia Airlines plane, the search area in the Indian Ocean is to be moved back to a zone 1,800 kilometres west of Perth, previously dismissed in late March.
The new search area, to be focused on when an underwater probe resumes in August,is not be based on fresh data but on new analysis of the plane’s flight path.
“All the trends of this analysis will move the search area south of where it was. Just how much south is something that we’re still working on,” said Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
“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,” he said.
The Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) will announce next week that the six-week analysis of all information related to the Boeing 777’s flight path has resulted in an 800 km shift in the search area to the south-west, The West Australian newspaper reported citing US sources.
The search area is still located on what is termed the seventh arc, based on the Britain-based Inmarsat’s satellite signal contact with the plane – just much further south.
The areas which will now be the focus of the search were previously surveyed from the air, but the undersea hunt was directed north after “pings” were heard which later turned out to be bogus false alarms.
The ATSB has not given out precise details of the search to be undertaken, but the US sources have said that one of the two ocean floor mapping vessels, Fugro Equator, is already operating in the new area, while a second vessel, the Chinese navy’s Zhu Kezhen, is en route to the same area.
The Beijing-bound Boeing 777-200 – carrying 239 people, including five Indians, an Indo-Canadian and 154 Chinese nationals – mysteriously vanished on March 8 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.
JACC have said Fugro Equator was working in an area of the southern Indian Ocean assigned by the ATSB.
“Located along the seventh arc, that area is consistent with provisional analysis of satellite and other data that is being used to determine the future search area,” a JACC spokesman said.
However, a Fremantle source quoted by the daily confirmed that the Fugro Equator “is operating in an area about 1800 km west of Perth.”
These ships will map the sea bed, which is up to 6,000 metres deep, ahead of a contractor starting a side scan sonar search with a towed Orion vehicle, more capable than the Bluefin 21 used earlier.
Earlier this week, UK satellite company Inmarsat claimed that the search for Flight MH370 is yet to target a “hotspot” most likely to be the crash site in the Indian Ocean as priority was given to investigate “pings” that has led to a dead end.
The UK satellite company Inmarsat told the BBC that the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet was yet to go to the area its scientists think is the plane’s most likely crash site.
Inmarsat’s communications with the aircraft are seen as the best clues to the whereabouts of Flight MH370.
An extensive search for the plane, involving 26 countries including India, has so far failed to unearth any wreckage.