The newly reinvigorated search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 could soon stop -- and then restart with better equipment. The Australian Transportation Safety Bureau, which is leading the international underwater hunt for MH370, said Wednesday inclement weather may temporarily halt its sweep for wreckage. Afterward, though, the investigation may begin incorporating innovative sonar technology.
In an operational update issued Wednesday, the bureau said more than 60,000 square kilometers, or 23,000 square miles, of the sea floor had been combed for evidence of the missing plane so far. But looking ahead, it warned storms could force its vessels to take a break.
"Search operations will carry on through the winter months, but pauses are anticipated," the bureau wrote. "The weather is forecast to deteriorate in the coming week with anticipated gale-force winds and predicted waves of up to 6-7 meters [23 feet]."
MH370 disappeared in March 2014 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. Investigators concluded that the Boeing 777 crashed into the Indian Ocean, but an exhaustive, yearlong search produced no evidence to support that theory. Then, last month, residents on Réunion Island near Madagascar discovered a flaperon wing part thought to be linked to the plane. A French search of the area failed to turn up any other debris, and the wider search continued.
Once the Australia-led investigation fully resumes in October, it could add a ship with synthetic aperture sonar, the Associated Press reported. Synthetic aperture sonar would produce higher-quality images of the ocean floor than the side-scan sonar currently in use. Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan told the AP the bureau was in negotiations to get the sophisticated equipment added to the fleet.
"Our preference would be to get synthetic if we can, but we can make use of conventional side-scan," he said. "The advantage of synthetic is that you can get greater resolution, so it helps in those areas that require closer examination."
Regardless, Dolan said he thinks the search for MH370 will finish by July 2016.