|(Pic - mh370.gov.my)|
The search for the missing Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers and crew has yet to find any evidence of a crash site in the priority search zone of the South Indian ocean. The ministers held a press conference following their meeting and released a Joint Communique. During the meeting they were given a detailed briefing on the work being undertaken to search for the aircraft. Discussions also included details of the technology used in the underwater search, assessment and analysis of data collected, classification of sonar contacts as well as the challenges and risks in the search operations in such a remote and difficult location in extreme depths. Agreement was reached on recovery arrangements if the aircraft is found as well as the next steps if the aircraft is not found in the current search area of 60,000 square kilometres.
All three countries have agreed to continue the search and extend it by an additional 60,000 square kilometres to bring the search area to 120,000 square kilometres and thereby cover the entire highest probability area identified by expert analysis. It is expected the expanded search will take until at least the end of the year though the winter months and weather may push a conclusion into 2016.
The additional second phase of the search will be focussed on widening the sonar scanning of the seabed along the seventh arc. It is estimated that this will cost up to $50 million, less than the first phase of the search cost due to ships and equipment already being in place.
News of the expanded search was communicated to MH370 families yesterday.
Mr. Liow Tiong Lai also dismissed a recent resurgence in media stories about sightings of the aircraft off the coast of the Maldives saying that these witness reports were at the wrong time and the aircraft islanders saw could not have been the Malaysia Airlines flight.
The ministers also confirmed that they are still hopeful of concluding the initial search phase by the end of May though Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss expressed a more subtly cautious note, "We are confident we have the best search equipment... if the plane is in the area we will find it."