Missing flight MH370: Canberra talks map out search plan

Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein (3rd L), Chinese Transport Minister Yang Chuantang (4th L), Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss (3rd R) and Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) Chief coordinator Angus Houston (4th R) attend a meeting at Parliament House in Canberra on 5 May 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption To date, no sign of the missing plane has been found, despite an intensive international search

Officials from Australia, Malaysia and China have met to map out a way forward in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

Transport ministers from Malaysia and China joined the Australian deputy leader and Angus Houston, the official leading the search, at the talks in Canberra.

So far, an intensive search operation has found no sign of flight MH370.

The next stage is set to involve a long search of a large area of ocean floor.

The plane went missing on 8 March as it flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with 239 people on board.

It lost contact with air traffic controllers over the South China Sea. Officials now believe, based on satellite data, that it ended its journey in the sea far west of the Australian city of Perth.

It is not yet known what caused the plane to fly so far off course. Finding its "black box" flight recorders is seen as key to understanding what happened.

Seabed mapping

Last week, Australia announced that the operation was entering a new phase, after an initial search of the area where acoustic signals thought to be from flight recorders were heard found nothing.

Speaking in Canberra, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said new sonar and submersible equipment would be needed.

"It's possible that some of it may be owned by navies or governments around the world, but it's likely that the majority will have to be provided from the private sector," he said.

He said the plan was to call for bids for a single operator to lead the search in its new phase.

He said he was optimistic that this could be done "in the space of one to two months", and said that in the interim the Bluefin-21 robotic submersible would continue working.

Mr Truss also said that detailed mapping of the ocean floor would be a key part of the next stage.

"Much of this area has never been mapped and so it will require a significant effort for us to understand the ocean floor in that area," he said.

More meetings would begin on Wednesday where experts would share all the information, including satellite data, collected to date, it was agreed.

Angus Houston said they wanted to ensure their assumptions were correct.

"We've got to this stage of the process where it's very sensible to go back and have a look at all of the data that has been gathered, all of the analysis that has been done and make sure there's no flaws in it, the assumptions are right, the analysis is right and the deductions and conclusions are right,'' AP quoted him as saying.

Australia has warned that the next stage of the search could take up to a year.