Senior officials from Malaysia, Australia and China are to meet early next week to decide on the next step in the search for the Malaysia Airlines jet, while expressing confidence yesterday that the hunt was on the right track despite no wreckage being found so far.
The Malaysian Boeing 777 disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that the challenges were huge, but he told reporters: “I believe we will find MH370 sooner or later.”
Hishammuddin said he would travel to Canberra for the meeting on Monday on the approach forward regarding deployment of assets, engagement with victims’ families and expert and technical advice.
An unmanned sub continued to scan the Indian Ocean floor off western Australia, where sounds consistent with a plane’s black box were detected early last month. Additional equipment is expected to be brought in within the next few weeks to scour an expanded underwater area. The aerial search for surface debris ended this week.
Angus Houston, the Australian head of the search operation, said he was confident the wreckage was in that area based on the most promising leads. However, he added that the probability of the US Navy’s Bluefin 21 robotic sub finding the wreckage are “lower than it was when we started the search.”
Houston said the ministerial meeting was crucial to “formalize the way ahead to ensure the search continues with urgency and that it doesn’t stop at any stage.”
He said that the search could take another eight to 12 months, but “we are totally committed to find MH370.”
Houston added that Bangladeshi ships, including a vessel fitted with sonar equipment, had so far found nothing in the northern Bay of Bengal, where a resource survey company, Australia-based GeoResonance Pty, had claimed it found possible plane wreckage.
Hishammuddin said Malaysia was still considering whether to hire private deep sea vessels to search the Bay of Bengal area as it could distract the main search and cost involved would be high.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, relatives of Chinese passengers aboard the missing plane yesterday expressed anger after being told they must suddenly leave their hotel in the Chinese capital a day after the airline said it would stop providing accommodation.
“I’m very angry,” said Steven Wang, whose mother was on the flight.
“Malaysia Airlines have suddenly told us to leave,” he added. “They should have at least given us an adjustment period for us to make preparations and collect our things.”
There was a heavy police presence at the Lido Hotel in Beijing yesterday, with dozens of uniformed officers inside.
The airline announced late on Thursday in a statement that it was ending all hotel accommodation for passenger relatives by Wednesday next week.
The Malaysian flag carrier has provided the service for relatives in a number of countries — most of them in Malaysia and China — where they also received periodic updates on the situation since shortly after the flight mysteriously disappeared on March 8.
In the statement, however, the airline said it was advising families “to receive information updates on the progress of the search and investigation and other support by Malaysia Airlines within the comfort of their own homes.”