The quickly-winding-down search for wreckage from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 hit yet another metaphorical roadbump recently when it encountered bad weather around Christmas. Investigators with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the agency leading the hunt for the missing plane, revealed Wednesday in their weekly operational update that conditions late last month impacted the search — and could continue to pose problems going forward.
"Weather has improved during the past week, although a cold front is moving across the search area today," the bureau wrote. "A ridge of high pressure will briefly dominate the search area on Thursday with another frontal passage expected on Friday."
This weather could set back progress made by an autonomous underwater vehicle, or AUV, sweeping the floor of the Indian Ocean for evidence related to MH370. Over the past two weeks, the Fugro Equator's AUV has spent 23 hours on 10 missions, according to the bureau.
These steps were the latest — and some of the last — in the search for MH370, a Boeing 777 that was presumed to have crashed after it mysteriously disappeared in March 2014. After a series of delays, the 120,000-square-kilometer, $145-million scan for debris from the plane was on scheduled to end this month.
But in December, officials collaborating with the bureau admitted in a report that they had "a high degree of confidence that the previously identified underwater area searched to date does not contain the missing aircraft." They identified another, 25,000-square-kilometer zone that "represents the next most likely area to contain the aircraft," the Guardian reported.
However, whether the already lengthy search will continue past its January 2017 deadline remained unclear.
Ministers from Malaysia, China and Australia agreed last summer not to keep up the hunt without new evidence, though recent reports alleged a private company like Boeing may take it over. Families of the 239 people who were on board MH370 when it vanished have also campaigned for an extension, last month even flying to Madagascar and Mauritius to look for debris themselves.