KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The search area for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 will be expanded by another 60,000 square kilometers (23,000 square miles) in the Indian Ocean if the jetliner is not found by May, officials said Thursday.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters that Malaysia, Australia and China, which are leading the hunt for the Boeing 777 that went missing on March 8 last year, are "committed to the search."
He told reporters after meeting with his counterparts from the other two countries that so far 61 percent of the 60,000 kilometer (23,000-square-mile) search area has been scoured off Australia's west coast. The remaining 39 percent would have been searched by the end of May, he said.
Chinese Transport Minister Yang Chuantan (R) speaks as Malaysia's Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai (C) and Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss (L) listen during the MH370 joint press conference at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur on April 16, 2015. The search zone for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will be doubled if nothing is found in the huge undersea area now being scanned for wreckage, government officials from Malaysia, Australia and China said on April 16. (MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
"If the aircraft is not found within the 60,000 square kilometers, we have collectively decided to extend the search to another 60,000 square kilometers within the highest probability area," he said. However, searchers are hopeful that they can find the plane in the current search area, he said.
Liow said the two areas together would cover 95 percent of the flight path of the plane, which went missing while on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. Most of the passengers were Chinese. It dropped off the radar, and investigators using satellite data later figured out that it made a series of turns and headed in a completely opposite direction from where it was going before crashing into the Indian Ocean.
"We are confident we are searching in the right area," Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss said at the news conference, alongside Liow. "We are confident we have the best search equipment .. if the plane is in the area we will find it."
He said Malaysia and Australia will continue to fund the cost of the next phase of the search. He or the other ministers did not say how much it would cost.
"Australia and Malaysia have been sharing the cost and we will continue to do that," he said. "We are confident we will be able to fund whatever is necessary."
In the first phase, a total of 120 million Australian dollars ($93.6 million) was spent by the two countries, split equally, and Liow said the next phase is estimated to cost A$50 million ($39 million).
The next phase will cost less because the equipment has already been purchased.
The two ministers said they expect the second phase of the search to take the rest of this year. But the search is likely to be hindered by bad weather as winter sets in soon in the southern hemisphere, where seasons are opposite that of the northern hemisphere.
In late January this year, Malaysia's government formally declared the plane's disappearance an accident and said all those on board were presumed dead. A comprehensive report into the disappearance found no significant anomalies in the flight, except that the battery of the locator beacon for the plane's data recorder had expired more than a year before the jet vanished.
A relative of Chinese passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 reacts as she walks out from a hotel ballroom after attending a news briefing organize by the airlines' officials in Beijing, China, Thursday, March 20, 2014. (AP/Andy Wong)
That still does not explain what caused the plane to veer so off course in what has become aviation's biggest mystery that continues to confound experts and investigators alike. At the same time, the relatives of the dead have got no closure and many still believe that their loved ones may be alive amid a host of conspiracy theories including one that the plane was hijacked and landed somewhere safely.