The search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is likely to drag on for years, a senior US defense official told Reuters yesterday, as an underwater search for any trace of the plane’s wreckage off west Australia appeared to have failed.
The official, speaking under condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the search effort, said two weeks of scouring the Indian Ocean floor with a US Navy submersible drone had turned up no wreckage.
He said the search for the plane, which vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board, would now enter a much harder phase of scouring broader areas of the ocean near where the plane is believed to have crashed.
“We went all in on this small area and didn’t find anything. Now you’ve got to go back to the big area,” the official said. “And now you’re talking years.”
The undersea drone Bluefin-21 was yesterday expected to finish what may be the last of its 16-hour trips to depths of more than 4.5km searching a 10km2 stretch of seabed about 3,218km northwest of Perth.
Authorities had identified the area as their strongest lead in determining the plane’s final resting place after detecting what they suspected was a signal, or “ping,” from the plane’s black box on April 4.
However, the US official said Malaysia would have to decide how to proceed with the search, including whether to bring in more underwater drones, even with the understanding that the search could continue for years without a refined search area.
In other developments, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has pledged to release a report on flight MH370’s disappearance as passengers’ families protested outside the country’s embassy in Beijing.
Razak promised that a preliminary report submitted to the UN’s aviation body would be released publicly.
“In the name of transparency, we will release the report next week,” he told CNN in an interview aired late on Thursday.
That was not soon enough for dozens of Chinese relatives who held an overnight protest outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing, according to a spokesman for relatives.
Police fanned out around the embassy yesterday morning.
The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization requires countries to submit within 30 days a factual account of what is known so far in any air crash.
Additional reporting by AFP