Authorities working to locate the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 may extend the search area beyond the current zone in a remote part of the southern Indian Ocean. The move comes even as officials from Australia, Malaysia and China decided last month to suspend the search for the Boeing 777-200 if no credible clues are found in the current search area.
Greg Hood, the new head of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), said this week that authorities were planning the next phase of the deep-sea sonar search for MH370 in case the current area turns up nothing. The search of a 46,000-square-mile area is due to end in the coming months. While authorities have already spent $160 million for locating the missing plane, Hood reportedly said that more funding commitment was required if the search is to be expanded.
“If it is not in the area which we defined, it’s going to be somewhere else in the near vicinity,” he reportedly said.
Authorities reportedly said that the analysis of a wing fragment known as a flaperon found on Reunion Island off the African coast in July last year will most likely help narrow a possible next search area outside the current boundary.
Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization's oceanography department in the island state of Tasmania will receive six replicas of the flaperon to determine whether it is the wind or the currents that affect how they drift, Hood said.
The flaperon was the first piece of wreckage to be recovered from the missing jet, which went missing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board while on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Following this, several debris pieces have emerged that authorities believe most "likely" belong to the missing jet.
Peter Foley, the ATSB’s director of Flight MH370 search operations since the outset, told the Associated Press that he hoped the enhanced drift modeling would narrow the next search area to 340 miles.
“Even the best drift analysis is not going to narrow it down to x-marks-the-spot,” he said.
Over the last few weeks, theories have surfaced that say Zaharie Ahmad Shah, captain of the missing plane, “deliberately flew the plane into the Indian Ocean.” However, Malaysian authorities refuted the claims saying that "he (Zaharie) had simulated the flight path, but it is one of thousands of simulations to many parts of the world. We cannot, just based on this, confirm he did it.”
Recent analysis of the final satellite signals also suggest the plane was descending at a rate of between 12,000 feet and 20,000 feet a minute before it crashed.
“The rate of descent combined with the position of the flap if it’s found that it is not deployed will almost certainly rule out either a controlled ditch or glide,” Foley said. “If it’s not in a deployed state, it validates, if you like, where we’ve been looking.”