Teams to double search area for missing flight MH370 after May

KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian, Australian and Chinese governments said the search area for the missing MH370 will be expanded to nearly double if nothing is found in the huge undersea area now being scanned for wreckage.

In a press conference after a tripartite meeting on Thursday, Malaysian Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the three governments are confident they would complete its primary search by May this year.

The primary search area extends over 60,000 sq km in the treacherous southern Indian Ocean, where the aircraft with 239 people on board is feared to have ended its journey after falling off the radar while on a routine flight to Beijing in March last year.

"If we cannot locate the aircraft within the 60,000 square kilometres, we will continue with the second phase of another 60,000 square kilometres," Mr Liow said.

The third Ministerial Tripartite Meeting between the three governments was held to review the search efforts for the missing Malaysian Airlines plane, and was attended by Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss and China's Transport Minister Yang Chuantang.

Mr Truss added the governments were confident of finding the aircraft and stressed the importance of resolving the mystery for the sake of "the families seeking closure, aviation industry and those who travel in aircrafts". 

A big international search operation continues along the southern corridor of the plane's possible route, more than 2,500km off the south-west coast of Australia. 

The Singapore government deployed three fixed wing aircrafts, three naval ships, a frigate with a helicopter, a corvette and a submarine rescue ship to the search zone.

To date, the search team has covered over 37,000 sq km, or 61 per cent of the 60,000-sq km priority area.

The three officials said in a joint statement that searching the new area could drag the effort out for another year due to the difficulties faced by the operation in the remote and storm-tossed seas.  

The Malaysian government declared in January that the disappearance of MH370 was an "accident" and that all aboard are presumed dead. The intensive search is jointly funded by Australia and Malaysia with a budget of US$93 million (S$126 million). 

asruls@sph.com.sg