MH370: Investigators point to new search area

Squadron Leader Brett McKenzie helping to look for objects during the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, off Perth in Western Australia.
Squadron Leader Brett McKenzie helping to look for objects during the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, off Perth in Western Australia.PHOTO: AFP

Report calls for zone to be extended by 25,000 sq km, but Australia not convinced

SYDNEY/KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia said yesterday that it had not abandoned hope of finding missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 and that it remained to be seen how a new report by investigators could help locate the aircraft.

Investigators searching for the plane recommended yesterday that the search area be extended by 25,000 sq km. But Australia - one of three search countries along with Malaysia and China - rejected the recommendation, citing a lack of "credible evidence" to extend the search.

In a statement, Malaysia said it remained to be seen how the report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) could be used to help identify the aircraft's location.

"I wish to reiterate that the aspiration to locate MH370 has not been abandoned and every decision made has and will always be in the spirit of cooperation among the three nations," Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said.

Flight MH370 disappeared in March 2014 with 239 passengers and crew on board, most of them Chinese, en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. Its whereabouts has become one of the world's greatest aviation mysteries.

The recommendation to extend the search follows a meeting last month between crash investigators, satellite communication and aviation experts and government representatives from Malaysia, China and Australia.

The ATSB, the search coordinator, said yesterday that new evidence derived from ocean drift modelling and further analysis of satellite communications with the aircraft and washed-up debris had helped determine the new area.

"There is a high degree of confidence that the previously identified underwater area searched to date does not contain the missing aircraft," the ATSB said. "Given the elimination of this area, the experts identified an area of approximately 25,000 sq km as the area with the highest probability of containing the wreckage of the aircraft."

The proposed new search area is north of the current search zone that has been the focus of the US$145 million (S$210 million) search so far. It would represent the second time the search has been extended if funding is forthcoming.

Malaysia and Australia have contributed the bulk of search financing. Malaysia holds ultimate responsibility, as Malaysia Airlines is registered in the South-east Asian nation, while the aircraft is thought to have crashed west of Australia, placing it in the country's maritime zone of responsibility.

But Australian Transport Minister Darren Chester indicated the report did not constitute evidence of the plane's location.

COOPERATIVE SPIRIT

I wish to reiterate that the aspiration to locate MH370 has not been abandoned and every decision made has and will always be in the spirit of cooperation among the three nations.

MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER LIOW TIONG LAI

EVIDENCE NEEDED

As agreed at the Tripartite Ministers meeting in Malaysia in July, we will be suspending the search unless credible evidence is available that identifies the specific location of the aircraft.

AUSTRALIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER DARREN CHESTER

"The information in the ATSB report does not give a specific location of the missing aircraft," he said. "As agreed at the tripartite ministers meeting in Malaysia in July, we will be suspending the search unless credible evidence is available that identifies the specific location of the aircraft."

Many next-of-kin of missing passengers have repeatedly complained about the lack of a coordinated search in the western Indian Ocean and along the African coast.

A group of relatives recently went to Madagascar to comb its beaches for clues on the lost plane, after fragments identified with "near certainty" as coming from MH370 were discovered on the coast of east Africa.

Ms Grace Subathirai Nathan, whose mother was on the plane, said it was unclear what authorities were doing to find the new evidence that would satisfy the Australian government's demands.

"The families have time and again requested that an international appeal to all nations be made if the three participating states are unable to fully support the extended search," said Ms Nathan, who heads the next-of-kin support group called Members of Voice 370.

A final sweep of the existing search zone is under way with the last vessel looking for MH370 leaving for the southern Indian Ocean from Australia last week. Before returning to port in January, it will examine about 200 small areas which were either too deep for previous missions or were not properly examined due to poor sonar readings.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2016, with the headline 'MH370: Investigators point to new search area'. Print Edition | Subscribe