The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is likely to drag on for years, a senior US defence official told said on Friday, as an underwater search appeared to have failed in finding any trace of the plane’s wreckage.
Australian officials also said on Friday that the sonar scan of the most likely crash site deep beneath the Indian Ocean is set to widen.
The Australian search coordination centre said a robotic submarine had scanned 95 per cent of a 310-square-kilometre search area since last week but had found nothing of interest. The US Navy’s Bluefin 21 is creating a three-dimensional sonar map of the ocean floor near where signals consistent with airplane black boxes were heard on April 8.
The search area is a circle with a 10-kilometre radius 4.5 kilometres deep off the west Australian coast. The search of the target area is scheduled to be completed within days.
“If no contacts of interest are made, Bluefin 21 will continue to examine the areas adjacent to the 10-kilometre radius,” the center said in a statement.
“We are currently consulting very closely with our international partners on the best way to continue the search into the future,” it added, referring to Malaysia, United States and China.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told CNN on Thursday that his government will release a preliminary report on the plane’s disappearance next week.
The report has already been sent to the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organisation, but has yet to be made available to the public, CNN reported.
Australian Defence Minister David Johnston said this week that an announcement was likely next week on the next phase of the search for the Boeing 777 which vanished with 239 passengers and crew on board on March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
He said the next phase was likely to deploy more powerful side-scan sonar equipment that can delve deeper than the Bluefin 21.
On Friday, up to 8 planes and 10 ships were to search for debris over a 49,000-square-kilometre ocean expanse 1,600 kilometres northwest of the city of Perth where the search is headquartered, the center said.
Meanwhile, dozens of Chinese relatives of MH370 passengers held an overnight protest outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing, demanding information from officials.
Police fanned out around the embassy on Friday morning, barring reporters from nearing the building. Embassy staff were not immediately available for comment.
Chinese relatives have for weeks complained bitterly about what they call Malaysia’s secretive and incompetent handling of the search.
Tensions boiled over at Thursday’s briefing, with some relatives claiming to be on “hunger strike” after airline representatives said a Malaysian embassy official would not arrive to answer their questions.