SYDNEY - Investigators searching for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have recommended extending the search by an additional 25,000 square kilometers (9,650 square miles), the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said on Tuesday.
Australia, one of three search countries, rejected the recommendation citing a lack of "credible evidence" to extend the search, leaving it unclear whether Chinese and Malaysian search teams will finance a prolonged search.
"The report does not give a specific location for the missing aircraft and so we need credible evidence that identifies the specific location of the aircraft to extend the search," a spokeswoman for Australia's Infrastructure and Transport minister Darren Chester told Reuters by telephone.
"We need more evidence at this point in time," she said.
The current 120,000-sq-km (46,330 sq miles) underwater search area west of Australia in the Indian Ocean is due to be completed in January, with no sign of the missing jet.
Flight MH370 disappeared in March 2014 with 239 passengers and crew on board, most of them Chinese, en route to Beijing from the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. Its whereabouts have become one of the world's greatest aviation mysteries.
The recommendation to extend the search follows a meeting in November between crash investigators, aviation experts and government representatives from Malaysia, China and Australia.
“There is a high degree of confidence that the previously identified underwater area searched to date does not contain the missing aircraft,” the ATSB report said. “Given the elimination of this area, the experts identified an area of approximately 25,000 square kilometers as the area with the highest probability of containing the wreckage of the aircraft.”
The report said that new evidence derived from ocean drift modeling, after aircraft debris was found as far away as the east coast of Africa, helped determine the new area.
The new area is to the north of the current search zone that has been the focus of the A$200 million ($145 million) search so far. It would represent the second time the search has been extended.
Charitha Pattiaratchi, Professor of Coastal Oceanography at the University of Western Australia, said the plane could be located even further north of the new area.
"I think it's a credible area that they are going to look at," said Pattiaratchi, who has conducted his own drift modeling. "It could be even further north than that, from our modeling.”