Australia, China and Malaysia pledged on Monday not to give up searching for a Malaysia Airlines jetliner that disappeared almost two months ago, despite lingering questions about how to proceed and who will pay.
No trace of Flight MH370 has been found since it vanished on a scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, despite the most intensive search in commercial aviation history.
With the air and surface search now halted, a new search phase costing around $60 million will begin after existing visual and sonar search data is analyzed and a contractor is found to lease the sophisticated equipment needed, officials said after meeting in Canberra.
Re-analyze search data
An international panel of experts will re-examine all data gathered in the nearly two-month hunt for the missing Malaysia jet to ensure search crews who have been scouring a desolate patch of ocean for the plane have been looking in the right place, officials said Monday.
Starting Wednesday, the data will be re-analyzed and combined with all information gathered thus far in the search, which hasn't turned up a single piece of debris despite crews scouring more than 4.6 million square kilometers of ocean.
Financial responsibility is also a major focus of the talks and Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss seemed to open the door to manufacturers including Boeing, which produced the 777-200ER jet, and engine maker Rolls Royce, to contribute financially.
"They also have a vested interest in what happened on MH370 so they can be confident about the quality of their product, or take remedial action if there was some part of the aircraft that contributed to this accident," Truss said.
Boeing said it was providing technical expertise to the investigation.
Last week, Malaysia released its most comprehensive account yet of what happened to Flight MH370, detailing the route the plane probably took as it veered off course and the confusion that followed.
Experts have narrowed the search area where the plane is presumed to have crashed to a large arc of the Indian Ocean about 1,600 kilometers northwest of the west Australian city of Perth.
The officials have said the focus will be on 60,000 square kilometers of seabed in the Indian Ocean that could take a year to search.
US reducing involvement
U.S. President Barack Obama had publicly promised to commit more assets, but government sources say the United States is keen to begin passing on the costs of providing the expensive sonar equipment the officials say they are trying to source.
The United States said over the weekend that it would only contribute its sophisticated Bluefin-21 underwater drone for one more month, placing pressure on Australia, China and Malaysia to find funding for the next phase of the search.
A majority of the 239 people on board were Chinese nationals.
Officials are contacting governments and private contractors to find out whether they have specialized equipment that can dive deeper than the Bluefin 21, an unmanned sub that has spent weeks scouring the seafloor in an area where sounds consistent with a plane's black box were detected in early April.
The Bluefin can dive only to depths of 4.5 kilometers— and parts of the search zone are likely deeper than that. Adding to the difficulties is the fact no one really knows exactly how deep the water in the search area is.
It will likely take another two months before any new equipment is in the water, Truss said. The Bluefin will continue to be used in the meantime, though its search is currently on hold while the ship Ocean Shield, which has the sub on board, is taking on supplies at a base in Western Australia.
The officials will meet again in Canberra on Wednesday, they said, where they will begin thrashing out the details of how to proceed and who precisely will shoulder the costs of doing so.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AP.