Investigators looking for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean may almost double the area they are combing if the current search doesn’t yield any results.
The search area may jump to 120,000 square kilometers (46,000 square miles) and the additional territory may take a year to comb, according to a statement issued by Malaysia, China and Australia. Ministers of the three countries met in Kuala Lumpur today to agree on the new course of action after 13 months of search so far yielded not one piece of debris.
The decision means the search for the plane will continue after the current search zone is fully analyzed around the end of May. Any solution to the longest search for a commercial jet in aviation history hinges on finding the black box flight recorders attached to the missing aircraft’s tail section, which may hold clues on what happened to the plane that dropped out of radars March 8, 2014, while on a routine commercial flight to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.
“In the current circumstances, all the evidence that you’re going to get is in those recorders,” Geoffrey Dell, an associate professor at Central Queensland University specializing in air accidents, said by phone. “It’s probable that they’re still readable and would be for some time more.”
A 584-page report released on the first anniversary of its disappearance March 8 last year contained no new evidence capable of explaining why the Boeing Co. 777-200ER disappeared with 239 people on board.
Search vessels have so far scanned an area of seafloor larger than the Netherlands in a remote region of the southern Indian Ocean about a third of the way from Australia to Madagascar.
The investigations focus on an area labeled the seventh arc, a line drawn over the ocean where satellite communications suggest the plane’s fuel ran out. Measurements of seven attempted data communications between the aircraft and an Inmarsat Plc satellite are the only clues to the direction of the aircraft after it disappeared from radar tracks over Andaman Sea west of Thailand.
Current search operations are being funded jointly by the Australian and Malaysian governments. Beijing has provided ships and personnel to assist the hunt, He Jianzhong, China’s Vice Minister for Transport, told a media conference last August.
Australia’s main search contract with Fugro NV, which is providing three of the ships scanning the seafloor, is worth A$39 million ($30 million) and lasts until August 2016, according to a summary of the public tender. Canberra set aside A$54 million for the search in the year ending June 30, according to its most recent budget papers.
On Jan. 29 Malaysia’s civil aviation department declared Flight 370 an accident and said all on board were presumed dead. That declaration was intended to help families obtain assistance including compensation.
All information received to date “supports the conclusion that MH370 ended its flight in the southern Indian Ocean,” Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the department, said in a statement at the time.
“Ministers remain committed to bring closure and some peace to the families and loved ones of those on board Malaysia Airlines flight 370,” according to the communique.
— With assistance by David Fickling, and Haixing Jin