The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 could take years, a US naval officer suggested yesterday, as search and rescue officials raced to locate the plane’s black box recorder days before its batteries are set to die.
Ten ships and as many aircraft are searching a massive area in the Indian Ocean west of Perth, trying again to find some trace of the aircraft, which went missing more than three weeks ago and is presumed to have crashed in one of the most remote areas on the planet.
An Australian navy ship, the Ocean Shield, was fitted with a sophisticated US black box locator and an underwater drone yesterday, and later left to join the search.
However, US Navy Captain Mark Matthews, who is in charge of the US Towed Pinger Locator, told journalists at Stirling Naval Base near Perth that the lack of information about where the plane went down seriously hampers the ability to find it.
“Right now, the search area is basically the size of the Indian Ocean, which would take an untenable amount of time to search,” he said.
“If you compare this to Air France flight 447, we had much better positional information of where that aircraft went into the water,” he said, referring to a plane that crashed in 2009 near Brazil and which took more than two years to find.
Numerous objects have been spotted in the two days since Australian authorities moved the search 1,100km after new analysis of radar and satellite data concluded the Boeing 777 traveled faster and for a shorter distance after vanishing from civilian radar screens on March 8. None has been confirmed as coming from flight MH370.
Australia, which is coordinating the search in the southern Indian Ocean, said it had established a new body to oversee the investigation and issued countries involved in the search a set of protocols to abide by should any wreckage be found.
Malaysia says the plane, which disappeared less than an hour into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was likely deliberately diverted.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said aircraft from China, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the US would be searching yesterday.
Both a Chinese ship and an Australian navy vessel have picked up objects, but nothing has been linked to flight MH370.
Last week, Australia issued a set of rules and guidelines to all parties involved in the search, giving Malaysia authority over the investigation of any debris to be conducted on Australian soil, an Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman said.
“Australia intends to bring the wreckage ashore at Perth and hold it securely for the purposes of the Malaysian investigation,” the spokeswoman said.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday appointed a former chief of its defense forces, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, to lead a new Joint Agency Coordination Centre.
The center will coordinate communication between all international partners, as well as with the families of passengers, many of whom are expected to travel to Perth.