Sydney: Investigators searching for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have recommended extending the search by an additional 25,000 sq km, to an area further north in the Indian Ocean, after conceding for the first time they were probably looking in the wrong spot.
Australia, one of three search countries, rejected the recommendation citing a lack of “credible evidence” to extend the search, leaving it unclear whether Chinese and Malaysian search teams will finance a prolonged search.
“The report does not give a specific location for the missing aircraft and so we need credible evidence that identifies the specific location of the aircraft to extend the search,” a spokeswoman for Australia’s infrastructure and transport minister Darren Chester told Reuters by telephone.
“We need more evidence at this point in time,” she said.
The current 120,000 sq km underwater search area west of Australia in the Indian Ocean is due to be completed in January, with no sign of the missing jet..
Flight MH370 disappeared in March 2014 with 239 passengers and crew on board, most of them Chinese, en route to Beijing from the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. Its whereabouts have become one of the world’s greatest aviation mysteries.
The recommendation to extend the search followed a meeting in November between crash investigators, aviation experts and government representatives from Malaysia, China and Australia.
The search coordinator, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), issued advice on Tuesday that new evidence derived from ocean drift modelling – after aircraft debris was found as far away as the east coast of Africa – helped determine the new area.
“There is a high degree of confidence that the previously identified underwater area searched to date does not contain the missing aircraft,” the ATSB report said.
“Given the elimination of this area, the experts identified an area of approximately 25,000 sq km as the area with the highest probability of containing the wreckage of the aircraft.”
The proposed new search area is north of the current search zone that has been the focus of the A$200 million search so far. It would represent the second time the search has been extended if funding was forthcoming.
Malaysia and Australia have contributed the bulk of search financing. Malaysia holds ultimate responsibility given Malaysia Airlines is registered in the Southeast Asian nation, while the aircraft is thought to have crashed west of Australia, placing it in the country’s maritime zone of responsibility.