New search area planned in hunt for 777

SINGAPORE — Investigators scouring the Indian Ocean for traces of the Malaysian Airline System jet that disappeared March 8 will announce a new search area by the end of this month.

A group including investigators from the United States, Britain and Australia and representatives of Boeing and Inmarsat has been analyzing satellite and plane data “to arrive at a consensus on the area that offers the highest probability of finding the missing aircraft,” Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre said in a response to questions from Bloomberg News Wednesday.

“That work is nearly complete and the revised search area, as agreed by the specialists, is expected to be announced before the end of June,” the group said.

The defined area will help focus the longest search operation in passenger aviation history, as Australia prepares to hire a private company to scour the ocean. No trace of the Boeing 777-200 with 239 passengers and crew aboard has been found since flight MH370 vanished more than three months ago, and communications with an Inmarsat orbiter remain the only clues to its location.

Chinese naval ship Zhu Kezhen and the privately hired MV Fugro Equator are charting 23,000 square miles of the ocean floor. Australia’s government has also put out a tender for a private company to conduct a deep-sea search starting in August that may take as long as one year.

A search spanning 850 square kilometers of the ocean floor where sounds similar to black box emergency beacons were heard by an Australian search vessel in early April turned up no evidence of aircraft debris. That area “can now be discounted as the final resting place of MH370,” the agency said May 29.

The disappearance of the Malaysian Airline System flight has baffled authorities because contact was lost less than an hour into the trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The jet vanished from civil radar while headed north over the Gulf of Thailand.

In the early days of the search, Vietnamese authorities looked for floating objects spotted in the South China Sea by a Chinese satellite, before data showed the aircraft had tracked back across the Malay peninsula.

Indian authorities scoured parts of the Andaman Sea and the coast of Bengal based on information from Malaysia that came before data from Inmarsat indicated the aircraft had turned south toward a remote part of the southern Indian Ocean. The Australian-led search mission at first focused on a zone close to the Southern Ocean before fresh analysis of satellite and fuel data indicated the plane probably ditched in tropical waters farther to the north.

Investigators have scanned 4.6 million square kilometers of ocean surface, with 29 aircraft carrying out 334 flights and 14 ships afloat as part of the operation, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said at a May 5 press conference.

In its budget last month, the country’s government set aside $84 million in costs for the hunt over the two years ending June 2015.

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