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Officials Expand Search Area for Missing Malaysia Airliner

FILE - Ground crew watch as a Japanese P-3C Orion taxis along the tarmac at RAAF Base Pearce before departing for Japan's final search flight for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

Malaysia, China and Australia say the search area for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner MH370 will be doubled if no trace of the plane is soon found. The announcement followed a joint meeting of government ministers in Kuala Lumpur.

Amid the continuing and, so far, fruitless search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the primary interested parties have been contemplating what to do next if nothing is discovered in the current area of exploration.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Australian and Chinese officials Thursday, Malaysia Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai announced an expanded search will commence to the north of the current sector in the Indian Ocean, off Australia's west coast.

“If the aircraft is not found within the current 60,000 square kilometer search area we have collectively decided to extend the search by an additional 60,000 square kilometers within the highest probability area,” said Liow.

Looking for wreckage in that extended area could take a year. MH370 disappeared on March 8 of last year.

Since then, more than 60 percent of the initial search area has been covered. And the ministers of Australia, China and Malaysia are still expressing optimism the Boeing 777 will be located in the sectors currently being probed where analysts have indicated the passenger plane is most likely to have gone down.

Search continues for Malaysia Flight MH370, April 16, 2015
Search continues for Malaysia Flight MH370, April 16, 2015

Australia's deputy prime minister, Warren Truss, said even though the best equipment in the world is being utilized to look for the aircraft, it is a very challenging underwater search area, five to six days journey from the closest port.

“The weather conditions are challenging. The remoteness of the site is challenging. The depth of the sea in the search area is challenging. The roughness of the sea bed is challenging,” said Truss.

Two-thirds of the passengers on MH370 were Chinese citizens. Chinese Transportation Minister Yang Chuantang told reporters his government's commitment to discovering precisely what happened to them is undaunted.

No matter the challenges that will be confronted, he said, China will stand alongside friends Australia and Malaysia to continue the search until the aircraft is found and the mystery of this unprecedented tragedy in the aviation industry is solved.

The ministers declined to answer questions about how much the additional search would cost.

There were 239 passengers and crew members on MH370, which took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing before veering off course and then vanishing from radar screens.

Investigators believe the aircraft traveled for thousands of kilometers - perhaps placed on a different course by its pilot - before running out of fuel and falling into deep, remote waters.