The air search for missing Malaysia Airlines plane MH370 is over, but the search will continue over an expanded area of the Indian Ocean floor.
(Transcript from World News Radio)
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced the air search for missing Malaysia Airlines plane MH370 is over, but the search will continue over a larger area underwater.
Mr Abbott says 52 days after the plane disappeared with 239 people on board, the search is now entering a new phase focused on searching the Indian Ocean floor.
Santilla Chingaipe reports.
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The un-manned Bluefin-21 underwater vehicle that's been involved in the search for wreckage of the plane in the Indian Ocean will continue to be used.
But an intensified search of the ocean floor will involve using different technology in the deep water where the search is focused.
Tony Abbott says no-one should underestimate the degree of responsibility that Australia feels because the crash appears to have happened in its search and rescue zone.
He says Australia, in consultation with Malaysia, will engage one or more commercial companies to undertake the work, at an expected cost of about $60 million.
"We will continue to work closely with Malaysia and with China in taking this operation forward. It could take us some weeks to put in place these new contractual arrangements for an intensified under sea search. During this period, there will be a dedicated team of vessels from Australia, Malaysia and China that will continue maritime operations to maintain continuity and momentum."
Mr Abbott has defended his announcement during a recent trip to China that searchers were within a few kilometres of finding the Malaysian plane.
He admits the plane's probable crash zone is now considered to be roughly 700 km by 80 km.
Mr Abbott says he's not in the business of making excuses for failure but rather doing everything possible not to let the world down.
"The point I have been making all along is that we owe it to the families of all on board, we owe it to the wider travelling public to do everything we reasonably can to get to the bottom of this mystery and I want the families to know, I want the world to know, that Australia will not shirk its responsibilities in this area. We will do everything we humanly can, everything we reasonably can, to solve this mystery. We will not let people down."
The aerial search for wreckage from the missing plane has involved more than 330 flights over more than seven weeks.
More than 4.5 million square kilometres of ocean has been searched by military and civilian planes from Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, South Korea and Malaysia.
Fourteen ships from Australia, China and Britain have also been looking for wreckage on the ocean surface.
But it's now considered highly unlikely that any aircraft debris will be found on the ocean's surface, because any would have become waterlogged and sunk.
The head of the search in the Indian Ocean, former Australian defence chief Angus Houston, says the expanded underwater search will probably take many months.
He says experience with the Bluefin underwater vehicle indicates that things won't all go smoothly.
"If everything goes perfectly, I would say we will be doing well if we do it in eight months. But then you have issues, potential issues, with weather, potential issues with unservicibility of equipment. Witness what's happened with our Bluefin. There have been a number of teething problems with it. Eventually it has done the job in a little bit more time than we had anticipated initially."
A team of experts in Kuala Lumpur will be asked to reconsider the likely impact zone based on the information gleaned from the search over the past few weeks.
But Angus Houston says he's confident the search has been focused on the right area.