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article imageAerial search for missing plane over, Australia says

By Nathan Salant     Apr 29, 2014 in World
Canberra - An international aerial search involving more than a dozen planes looking for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was called off Monday but high-tech underwater search operations are being expanded, Australian officials leading the effort said Monday.
Three weeks of searching for debris from the missing jetliner and its 239 passengers and crew turned up nothing of relevance, officials said, prompting a refocusing of resources to the Indian Ocean floor.
“It is highly unlikely at this stage that we will find any aircraft debris on the ocean surface," Australia's prime minister, Tony Abbott, said Monday in Canberra, the country's capital, according to the Associated Press.
"Therefore, we are moving from the current phase to a phase which is focused on searching the ocean floor over a much larger area,” he said.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared from radar screens on April 8 while on a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Analyses of radar data that does exist appears to show the Boeing 777 veering sharply off course as it flew north over the Strait of Malacca, the AP said.
How and why the jetliner turned around is not known, but search efforts have been concentrated on where it would likely would have run out of fuel had it continued to fly for hours after losing contact with the ground.
The new search area is 430 miles long and 50 miles wide, much larger than the 150-square-mile area scoured by the Bluefin-21, the drone supplied by the US Navy, the AP said.
The drone had been concentrating on areas where officials think they heard locator signals from the plane's flight recorders before their batteries expired.
But because the expanded search area is so large, the new area could take as long as eight months to search thoroughly, according to former Australian Defense Force chief Angus Houston, who is heading up search effort.
“If everything goes perfectly, I would say we’ll be doing well if we do it in eight months,” Houston told the AP, but weather and technical issues could prolong the search.
Abbott said Australia was trying to bring in additional equipment to conduct the larger search.
“We’re still baffled and disappointed that we haven’t been able to find undersea wreckage based on those detections, and this is one of the reasons why we are continuing to deploy the Bluefin-21 submersible — because this is the best information that we’ve got,” Abbott said.
“It may turn out to be a false lead, but nevertheless it’s the best lead we’ve got," he said.
Abbott also said there was a possibility that the plane would ever be found.
“Of course it’s possible, but that would be a terrible outcome because it would leave families with a baffling uncertainty forever,” he said.
“The aircraft plainly cannot disappear — it must be somewhere — and we are going to do everything we reasonably can, even to the point of conducting the most intensive undersea search which human ingenuity currently makes possible of some 60,000 square kilometers under the sea.”
Most of the plane's 227 passengers were Chinese nationals, which led to diplomatic friction between China and Malaysia in the first two weeks after Flight 370 disappeared.
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