Up to 10 military planes, three civilian jets and 11 ships will
scour a 217,000-sq-km (88,000-sq-mile) patch of desolate ocean some
1,700 km (1,060 miles) northwest of Perth near where investigators
believe the plane went down on March 8 with the loss of all 239
people on board.
"If we haven't found anything in six weeks we will continue because
there are a lot of things in the aircraft that will float," Retired
Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the Australian agency
coordinating the operation, told reporters.
"Eventually I think something will be found that will help us narrow
the search area."
Authorities have not ruled out mechanical problems as a cause but
say the evidence, including the loss of communications, suggests
Flight MH370 was deliberately diverted thousands of kilometers from
its scheduled route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Dozens of flights by a multinational taskforce have so far failed to
turn up any trace of the plane, and investigators concede the task
has been made more difficult by the lack of data.
The Boeing 777 was briefly picked up on military radar on the other
side of Malaysia and analysis of subsequent hourly electronic
"handshakes" exchanged with a satellite led investigators to
conclude the plane crashed far off the west Australian coast hours
Sonar equipment on two ships joining the search may help find the
plane's black box voice and data recorders that are key to unlocking
what happened on the flight. The black box is equipped with a
locator beacon that transmits "pings" when underwater, but its
batteries may only last 30 days.
Australian authorities said the so-called Towed Pinger Locator will
be pulled behind navy ship HMAS Ocean Shield, searching a converging
course on a 240-km (150-mile) track with British hydrographic survey
ship HMS Echo.
Experts have warned the Towed Pinger Locator may be of little use
unless investigators can get a much better idea of exactly where the
plane went into the water, because its limited range and the slow
speed at which it must be pulled behind the ship mean it cannot
cover large areas of ocean quickly.
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"I won't even call it an area. What we are doing is we are tracking
down the best estimate of the course that the aircraft was on," U.S.
Navy Captain Mark Matthews told Reuters. "It takes a couple of days
on each leg so its a slow-going search."
Britain is also sending HMS Tireless, a Trafalgar-class nuclear
submarine with sonar capabilities, and a Malaysian frigate was due
to arrive in the search area on Saturday.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his Australian counterpart,
Tony Abbott, this week toured RAAF Base Pearce, near Perth, from
where aircrews seven countries have been operating.
"The world expects us to do our level best, and I'm very confident
we will indeed show what we can do together as a group of nations;
that we want to find answers, that we want to provide comfort to the
families and we will not rest until answers are indeed found," Najib
Malaysian authorities have faced heavy criticism, particularly from
China, for mismanaging the search and holding back information. Most
of the 227 passengers were Chinese.
(Additional reporting by Niluksi Koswanage in Kuala Lumpur and Jane Wardell in Sydney;
writing by Lincoln Feast; editing by Nick Macfie)
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