SYDNEY: Australia yesterday ruled out a large swathe of Indian Ocean as Flight MH370’s final resting place, compounding the frustration of passengers’ relatives who are still without answers almost three months on.
The Joint Agency Coordination Centre said a lengthy underwater search of an area where acoustic transmissions were detected in early April was now complete, as a US Navy official queried whether the missing plane ever went there.
“The Joint Agency Coordination Centre can advise that no signs of aircraft debris have been found by the autonomous underwater vehicle since it joined the search effort,” JACC said.
It added that the Australian Transport Safety Bureau had advised that “the area can now be discounted as the final resting place of MH370” in an outcome that prompted anger and scorn from relatives still desperate for closure.
Australian ship Ocean Shield, which is carrying the US Bluefin-21 sub, has now left the area after scouring 850 square kilometres of sea bed for the jet that vanished flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 carrying 239 people.
The end of the underwater, mini sub, mission came as the US Navy’s deputy director of ocean engineering Michael Dean told CNN that the pings at the heart of the search were no longer believed to have come from the plane’s black box.
He said that if they were from the on-board data or voice recorders they would have been found by now.
“Our best theory at this point is that (the pings were) likely some sound produced by the ship... or within the electronics of the towed pinger locator,” Dean said.
He said it was not possible to absolutely exclude that the pings came from the black boxes, but there was no evidence now to suggest they did.
A US Navy spokesman later said his comments were “speculative and premature.”
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said the search was concentrated where the pings were detected because it was “the best information available at the time,” without commenting on whether they came from the black box.
He added that Australia remained “very confident that the resting place of the aircraft is in the southern (Indian) Ocean.”
JACC said the operation would now move to the next phase involving sophisticated equipment to scan the unmapped ocean floor, with all existing information and analysis reviewed to define a new search zone of up to 60,000 square kilometres.
A Chinese survey ship, Zhu Kezhen, is currently mapping areas of the ocean in preparation for the commercially contracted deep sea search, which is expected to begin in August and take up to 12 months. AFP