More powerful sonar equipment may be deployed for MH370 search

Evan Tanner and Chris Minor (standing) from Phoenix International conduct pre-deployment checks of the Phoenix Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Artemis off the deck of Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield into the water to search for the missing
Evan Tanner and Chris Minor (standing) from Phoenix International conduct pre-deployment checks of the Phoenix Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Artemis off the deck of Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield into the water to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the Southern Indian Ocean on April 20, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS 

CANBERRA - Australian authorities searching for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 are gearing up to send in much more powerful sonar equipment to scan for debris on the seabed.

Australia's Defence Minister David Johnston said more powerful towed side-scan commercial sonar equipment would probably be deployed, The Guardian reported.

The equipment is similar to the system that found the Titanic 3,800m under the Atlantic Ocean in 1985 and the Australian second world war wreck HMAS Sydney in 2008 in the Indian Ocean, north of the current search area for MH370, said the newspaper.

"The next phase, I think, is that we step up with potentially a more powerful, more capable side-scan sonar to do deeper water," Mr Johnston was quoted as saying.

He added that Australia was consulting with Malaysia, China and the United States on the next phase of the search for the plane.

No debris from MH370 has been found so far, despite the US navy robotic submarine Bluefin 21 having covered more than 80 per cent of the targeted search area.

The area of 310 sq km is thought to be where the plane is most likely to have gone down, based on "ping" signals that match those from an airliner's black box. Those signals were picked up by search vessels two weeks ago but are thought to have ceased when the beacons' batteries ran out.

The Bluefin had less than one-fifth of the search area left to complete but that could take another two weeks, the minister said. "We want to be very thorough."

The Bluefin's first 16-hour seafloor mission last week was aborted because the water depth exceeded its 4.5km safety limit. Mr Johnston said it was possible that wreckage had been missed in that deep water, according to the report.

Analysis was continuing of flight data and the apparent black box beacon signals, he said. "We are currently gathering all of the facts together to mount a further assault on the most likely location, given all the facts," he said.

"A lot of this seabed has not even been hydrographically surveyed before ... we're flying blind," he said, adding that there were waters 7km deep in the area.

The air search for debris would likely continue until the announcement of a new search phase next week, the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Radar and satellite signals have shown the jet, carrying 239 passengers and crew, veered far off course for unknown reasons during its flight from Malaysia to China on March 8. Analysis indicates it would have run out of fuel in the remote section of ocean where the search has been focused.