US mulling undersea surveillance gear for Malaysia plane hunt

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Malaysia on Friday asked the United States to provide undersea surveillance technology to help in the search for  the wreckage of a missing airliner, Pentagon officials said.

The request came as a near two-week search failed to find any debris from the Boeing 777 that disappeared off the radar after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8.

In a phone call to Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel, Malaysia’s defence minister and acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein “requested that the US consider providing some undersea surveillance equipment,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

Mr Hagel assured his counterpart that he would “assess the availability and utility of military undersea technology for such a task and provide him an update in the very near future,” Mr Kirby said in a statement.

Officials did not say precisely what equipment the Pentagon might provide but the US military has invested heavily in robotic technology designed for undersea surveillance against enemy submarines or torpedoes.

The Malaysian minister thanked Hagel for the US Navy’s assistance in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared with 239 passengers and crew in an unprecedented aviation mystery.

Two US Navy maritime surveillance planes, a P-3 Orion and P-8 Poseidon, have been taking part in the search.

The P-8 has flown with Australian aircraft in a search of the southern Indian Ocean, while the P-3 –- which had been combing an area in the Bay of Bengal – is due to join the search in the southern zone, officials said.

A search effort on Friday of a remote stretch of Indian Ocean concluded “without any sightings,” the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said in a statement.