Australia has awarded a contract to a Dutch company to search the Indian Ocean floor for the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner that disappeared in March.
The Fugro engineering company is expected to start the search in mid-September. It could take up to a year to scour the 60,000 square-kilometer search area, located off the southwest coast of Australia.
Transport Minister Warren Truss said Wednesday the search will be challenging, but he is "cautiously optimistic" the missing Boeing 777 will be found within the target area.
Fugro will search the ocean floor using two vessels towing underwater vehicles equipped with side scan sonar, multibeam echo sounders and video cameras. Truss said the cost of the search could reach $48 million if it lasts for a year.
Two other ships are currently carrying out a complex, bathymetric survey in the area to learn more about the depths and shapes of the underwater terrain, which is 5,000 meters deep in some places.
The airliner was headed from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 when it disappeared with 239 people on board. It did not send a distress call and its communications devices were disabled or malfunctioned.
Malaysian authorities say they believe someone intentionally diverted the plane. Australian officials said in June they are now confident the jet was on autopilot when it crashed and that the plane's pilots were likely unresponsive due to a lack of oxygen.