Australian, Malaysian, and Chinese government officials announced at a press conference on Thursday that they will double the search zone for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 if the plane is not found by May. An additional 60,000 square miles will be added to search efforts in the Indian Ocean west of Australia. The upcoming winter season could make the extended search take up to a year, officials said.
The current search mission is expected to be completed by next month. The combined two areas would cover 95 percent of the plane's flight path, authorities said, which made them confident the plane would be found and peace can finally be brought to the victims and their families. The expanded search would continue to be funded by Malaysia and Australia, though the exact costs were not shared.
In a joint statement, Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, and Chinese Transport Minister Yang Chuantang said:
Should the aircraft not be found within the current search area, ministers agreed to extend the search by an additional 60,000 square kilometers to bring the search area to 120,000 square kilometers and thereby cover the entire highest probability area identified by expert analysis.
With 239 people on board, the plane mysteriously disappeared off radar March 8, 2014, while flying from Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Investigators later determined the flight made a series of turns that caused it fly thousands of miles off course before crashing. Eight months of dramatic search efforts have been futile and no trace of the plane has been found.
Teams have been using sonar equipment and underwater drones to search 60,000 square miles roughly 1,000 miles off Australia's west coast. So far, they've searched more than 60 percent of previously uncharted sections of the sea floor, according to Reuters. After months of no sign of the plane, international support has dwindled to a handful of ships. The ministers said they were "committed to the search," but Reuters reported they appeared to suggest the new efforts would be the best and final opportunity to locate any of the plane's debris.
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