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Officials to plan next phase of plane search

by MICHELLE INNIS New York Times News Service on May 05, 2014 10:35 AM

International experts plan to convene in Canberra, Australia’s capital, on Wednesday to coordinate the next phase of the underwater search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, with an intensified examination of the ocean floor looking for debris, officials said today.

Warren Truss, Australia’s deputy prime minister, said he is sure that the plane landed in the Indian Ocean, but the next phase would require mapping of the ocean bed, conducting an audit of all information collected to date, and deploying new search equipment, some of which would come from commercial operators.

“The operation must now enter a new phase and the focus of the search will intensify on the ocean floor,” Truss said. “Meetings will commence on Wednesday in Canberra with international experts to analyze all the data and information collected so far to identify the path of MH370.”

The flight, with 239 people on board, went missing on March 8 after leaving Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on a scheduled flight to Beijing.

Truss said that despite hundreds of hours of searching the ocean surface, no debris from the jet has been found.

The unmanned submersible craft Bluefin-21 has searched at least 150 square miles of the ocean floor, but has also failed to find any sign of the jet.

That underwater search will be expanded, using side-scan sonar and other unmanned submersible crafts.

Truss, joined at a news briefing in Canberra by Malaysia’s acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, and China’s transport minister, Yang Chuantang, said they would continue the search in accordance with an agreement reached in Canberra.

“I believe we are on the right track,” Hishammuddin said.

Authorities said that although the seabed in the search area is unmapped, they know the water is extremely deep.

“It is disappointing that we have had no debris that has led us to this wreckage,” Truss said. He added that the search in the current area, about 1,000 miles off the coast of the state of Western Australia, began some days after the plane went missing, and debris may have drifted to the bottom of the ocean in that time.

“We have no idea when it will be found,” Truss said. “We always hope it will be tomorrow.

He added that the search was likely to cost about $55 million over the next phase.

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