The weekslong search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is “an extraordinarily difficult exercise,” but it will go on as long as possible, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said yesterday.
Abbott told reporters in Perth, the base for the search, that although no debris has been found in the southern Indian Ocean that can be linked to the plane, searchers are “well, well short” of any point where they would scale the hunt back.
The Boeing 777 disappeared on March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard, and after experts sifted through radar and satellite data, they gradually moved the hunt from seas off of Vietnam, to areas west of Malaysia and Indonesia, and then to several areas west of Australia.
“This is an extraordinarily difficult exercise .... we are searching a vast area of ocean and we are working on quite limited information,” Abbott said, adding that the best brains in the world and all the technological mastery is being applied to the task.
“If this mystery is solvable, we will solve it,” he said.
He said the search that has been going on for more than three weeks is operating on “guestimates ... until we locate some actual wreckage from the aircraft and then do the regression analysis that might tell us where the aircraft went into the ocean.”
Ten planes were either over the search zone or heading there by late yesterday afternoon, and another 11 ships were scouring the area, about 1,850km west of Australia.
More than 100 personnel in the air and 1,000 sailors at sea were involved in yesterday’s hunt for debris.
After several days no debris has been found that can be linked to the flight, Australian officials said. Only fishing equipment and other flotsam have been spotted.
Abbott said he was not putting a time limit on the search.
“We owe it to everyone to do whatever we reasonably can and we can keep searching for quite some time to come ... and, as I said, the intensity of our search and the magnitude of operations is increasing, not decreasing,” he said.
The Ocean Shield, an Australian warship which is carrying a US device that detects “pings” from the flight recorders, was expected to leave Perth yesterday for the search zone, a trip that will take three to four days.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the search, said it was first to conduct sea trials yesterday afternoon to test the search equipment on board.
The search area remains vast, so investigators are hoping to first find debris from the plane floating on the ocean surface that will help them calculate where the plane crashed into the water.
Meanwhile, at a Buddhist temple near Kuala Lumpur yesterday where Chinese relatives prayed for their loved ones, Buddhist nuns handed out prayer beads to them.
“You are not alone,” one nun said. “You have the whole world’s love, including Malaysia’s.”
Several relatives were overcome with emotion, tears streaming down their faces.
The family members later made a media statement, expressing their appreciation to Beijing, the people of Malaysia and the volunteers who have been assisting them.
They bowed as a show of gratitude, but also said they were still demanding answers.
“To those who are guilty of harming our loved ones, hiding the truth, and delaying the search and rescue, we will also definitely not forgive them,” said Jiang Hui, a representative of the families.