Optimism renewed in search for jet

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SYDNEY — Of­fi­cials ex­pressed new op­ti­mism Thurs­day that data from an at­tempt to con­tact the Ma­lay­sia Airlines flight that dis­ap­peared in the In­dian Ocean could lead to the plane’s dis­cov­ery.

“All of the coun­tries in­volved re­main cau­tiously op­ti­mis­tic that we will find the miss­ing air­craft,” Aus­tra­lian Dep­uty Prime Min­is­ter War­ren Truss said at a news con­fer­ence in Can­berra, the Aus­tra­lian cap­i­tal, with Ma­lay­sia’s trans­port min­is­ter, Liow Tiong Lai, and China’s vice min­is­ter for trans­port, He Jian­zhong.

Mr. Truss said teams con­tin­ued to re­fine the search area, not­ing that data from a failed at­tempt to con­tact the plane, Flight 370, with a sat­el­lite phone had pro­vided some new in­for­ma­tion.

“After MH370 dis­ap­peared from the ra­dar, Ma­lay­sia Airlines ground staff sought to make con­tact with the air­craft us­ing a sat­el­lite phone,” Mr. Truss said. “That was un­suc­cess­ful. But the de­tailed re­search that is be­ing done now has been able to iden­tify or trace that phone call and help to po­si­tion the air­craft and the di­rec­tion it was trav­el­ing.

”That has sug­gested to us that the air­craft may have turned south a lit­tle ear­lier than we had pre­vi­ously ex­pected.”

Flight 370 left Kuala Lum­pur, Ma­lay­sia, on March 8 on an over­night flight to Bei­jing with 239 peo­ple on board, but it in­ex­pli­ca­bly turned off course and headed south. Trans­mis­sions from the air­craft, known as elec­tronic “hand­shakes,” cap­tured by a sat­el­lite sta­tion in Perth in­di­cated that the flight had come to an end off the west coast of Aus­tra­lia, some­where on a long arc over the In­dian Ocean.

But a 52-day air search of the sea sur­face off Aus­tra­lia’s coast, as well as the use of towed un­der­sea de­vices able to track “pings” from an air­craft’s so-called black boxes, failed to turn up a sin­gle trace of the Boe­ing 777-200.

Of­fi­cials be­lieve that the plane flew south for hours on au­to­pi­lot, but they do not know why its com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tems were switched off, or why it de­vi­ated from its flight path. Mr. Truss said no con­clu­sions could be reached about what had hap­pened in the plane’s cock­pit un­til the black boxes were re­trieved.

The search area re­mains on the arc de­ter­mined by the last elec­tronic hand­shake picked up from the plane, but Mr. Truss said the area had been re­fined slightly in light of the data gleaned from the failed sat­el­lite phone call. He also de­scribed the area of ocean floor where the Aus­tra­lian Trans­port Safety Bureau will lead a deep-sea search start­ing in Sep­tem­ber.

In some places it is more than 4 miles deep, he said, and it is stud­ded with vol­ca­noes and pla­teaus that could dam­age sur­vey­ing equip­ment. A ba­thy­met­ric sur­vey, or map­ping of the sea­floor, in the search area has cov­ered more than 33,000 square miles and re­vealed at least two vol­ca­noes, as well as sig­nifi­cantly greater depths than had been ex­pected, Mr. Truss said.

Mr. Truss and Mr. Liow said the cost of the search dur­ing the next 12 months, un­less the plane is found sooner, would prob­a­bly be about $49 mil­lion. The cost will be di­vided equally be­tween Ma­lay­sia and Aus­tra­lia. China is to pro­vide search ves­sels and make other con­tri­bu­tions. Most of Flight 370’s pas­sen­gers were Chi­nese.

Mr. Liow said he hoped to be able to pro­vide fam­i­lies of the miss­ing pas­sen­gers with more timely and reg­u­lar up­dates on the search prog­ress.

Asia - Southeast Asia - Australia - Oceania - Malaysia - Indian Ocean


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