Australia prepares for year-long hunt for MH370

Australian investigators are planning an intensified underwater search of a 60,000 square kilometre area – roughly the size of Tasmania – in an effort to locate the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) chief commissioner Martin Dolan said that after 11 weeks since the Boeing 777-200 ER aircraft disappeared from air traffic control radar screens after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on a scheduled passenger service to Beijing, the complexities surrounding the search could not be understated.

“It involves vast areas of the Indian Ocean with only limited known data and aircraft flight information,” said Dolan. “While it is impossible to determine with certainty where the aircraft may have entered the water, all the available data indicates a highly probable search area close to a long but narrow arc of the southern Indian Ocean.”

He said it is now highly unlikely that surface debris from the aircraft will be spotted and that this means that the most effective way to continue the search is to look for MH370 under the water.

As part of its search operations, the ATSB’s initial work involves:

  • reviewing existing information, from an expert satellite working group, to refine a search zone of up to 60,000 square kilometres in the southern Indian Ocean
  • conducting a bathymetric survey to map the search area
  • consulting with domestic and international authorities—including various oceanographic institutions and private companies—to prepare the plan and specialist services required for the next search phase.

The bathymetric survey – or mapping of the ocean floor – has already commenced, with the Chinese survey ship Zhu Kezhen conducting a survey of the areas provided by the ATSB. Zhu Kezhen will shortly be joined by a contracted commercial survey vessel in June.

“Taking around three months to complete, the bathymetric survey will give us crucial knowledge of the seafloor terrain needed to begin the underwater search,” said Dolan.

The intensified underwater search will aim to locate the aircraft and any evidence such as aircraft debris and flight recorders to assist with the Malaysian investigation. The equipment used for the search will likely include a towed sonar, an autonomous underwater vehicle with mounted sonar, and optical imaging equipment. “We expect the search to begin in several months and take up to 12 months to complete,” said Dolan.

“The best minds from around the world have been reviewing, refining and localising the most likely area where the aircraft entered the water, which is why we remain confident of finding the aircraft,” he said.

Read More: ATSB’s MH370 webpage featuring a series of factsheets that provide detail on the underwater search operations and regular updates as significant information comes to hand.

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