Search for MH370 at a critical juncture, says Malaysian minister

Malaysian Minister of Defence and Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein (centre) speaks during a press conference at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, April 19, 2014. The underwater search for black boxes from the missing Malaysia Fl
Malaysian Minister of Defence and Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein (centre) speaks during a press conference at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, April 19, 2014. The underwater search for black boxes from the missing Malaysia Flight MH370 is at a critical juncture, Mr Hishammuddin said on Saturday. -- PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - The underwater search for black boxes from the missing Malaysia Flight MH370 is at a critical juncture, Malaysia's Defence Minister and Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on Saturday.

A lot rests on what the mini-submarine scouring a stretch of the Indian Ocean finds by Sunday after which officials may consider adding on "private and commercial assets" to the search efforts, he said at a press conference here to take stock of search operations.

A US Navy deep-sea autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), Bluefin-21, is currently scouring a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean floor for signs of the plane, which disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 with 239 people on board.

The Bluefin is currently searching a narrow, circular area with a radius of 10 km around a location in which one of four pings believed to have come from the black box recorders on the plane was detected on April 8.

Australian officials said on Saturday that they expect it to complete the search in "5 to 7 days."

"Today and tomorrow, search is at a critical juncture," Mr Hishammudin said.

Officials would need to "regroup" and reconsider options if the Bluefin mission fails to spot wreckage from the plane, he said.

The use of some "private and commercial assets" may need to be considered to supplement the Bluefin operations which will not be stopped, he said.

"The search will always continue," he said.