Missing plane: Search enters 'new phase'

Mr Abbott said it was now highly unlikely that any debris would be found on the surface of the Indian Ocean

The search for the missing Malaysian plane is entering a "new phase", Australia has announced, after the initial undersea search found nothing.

PM Tony Abbott said that "a much larger" area of the ocean floor would now be targeted.

But he said it was "highly unlikely" any surface wreckage would be found, and suspended aerial searches.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing on 8 March as it flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The plane, carrying 239 people, disappeared off radar over the South China Sea.

Officials say that, based on satellite information, they believe it ended its journey in seas north-west of the Australian city of Perth, far from its planned path.

Start Quote

For the families of the 239 people who were on board the missing Malaysian airliner this latest news is another blow. There will be no "closure". Not yet. The search is now in its eighth week. Today we were told the next phase will take more like eight months, if not longer.”

End Quote

Investigators have given no reason yet as to why the plane flew so far off course. Finding the "black box" flight recorders is seen as key to understanding what happened.

Bigger area

Mr Abbott made his announcement at a news conference in Canberra.

"It is now 52 days since Malaysia Airlines Fight MH370 disappeared and I'm here to inform you that the search will be entering a new phase," he said.

By now, he said, most debris would have become waterlogged and sunk, so operations would now focus on "searching the ocean floor over a much larger area".

So far, a robot submersible called the Bluefin-21 has been scouring the seabed in the location of acoustic signals heard on 8 April believed to have originated from the plane's flight recorders.

The Phoenix International Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Artemis, also known as the Bluefin-21, is prepared for deployment from the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the Southern Indian Ocean in this undated picture released on 21 April  2014 by the Australian Defence Force The robotic submarine Bluefin-21 has searched the sea floor but has so far found nothing

Bluefin-21 has been searching a circular area with a 10-km (6-mile) radius, some 4,500m below the surface.

Planes and ships from multiple nations have also been searching the sea for signs of debris, based on where it might have floated from the possible impact point.

So far, however, no sign of the missing plane has been detected.

Mr Abbott said there was still "a considerable degree of confidence that the detections that were picked up" in early April were from a flight recorder.

He said the new phase of the search would involve commercial contractors with additional sonar mapping equipment - an operation towards which Australia would be seeking contributions from other countries to help meet the estimated $60m (£36m) cost.

Getting this equipment in place could take several weeks, he said, and in the interim the Bluefin-21 would continue to search.

Mr Abbott also promised that while the operation was changing, "it certainly is not ending".

"We will do everything we humanly can... to solve this mystery," he said.

Ocean off the coast of Australia

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