Search for MH370 ceases until August

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Australian authorities have stopped searching for debris related to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the area where the ADV Ocean Shield detected acoustic signals in early April.

The Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) says the Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle was pulled up on 28 March after searching over 850km2 of the ocean floor.

Analysis of data it gathered shows no signs of the Boeing 777-200ER that disappeared on 8 March.

“The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has advised that the search in the vicinity of the acoustic detections can now be considered complete and in its professional judgement, the area can now be discounted as the final resting place of MH370,” the JACC says.

The announcement follows media confusion stemming from comments by a US Navy official. During a CNN interview, the navy’s deputy director of ocean engineering, Michael Dean, said that acoustic signals detected in early April – which informed the location of the Bluefin-21’s search – have subsequently been deemed by the USA and other nations to have been produced by a source other than MH370’s flight data or cockpit voice recorder.

The US Navy was quick to issue a statement saying the official’s comments were premature.

Dean’s comments, and the navy’s swift refutation, were but the latest public relations hitch related to the search for MH370. In the early days after the disappearance of MH370, uncoordinated communications by Malaysian officials sowed confusion around the aircraft’s disappearance. On April 11, Australian prime minister Tony Abbot expressed confidence that the search was close to locating the missing aircraft, but backed down from these remarks the following day.

Flightglobal contacted the ATSB and JACC about the status of the search following Dean’s comments, but had not received a response at the time of writing.

The completion of the Bluefin-21’s search closes the first chapter of the hunt for MH370. The ADV Ocean Shield, which has played a key role in searching for the lost aircraft, is returning to port.

The JACC foresees the search continuing in three stages. This will see the establishment of a search zone of up to 60,000km2 in the southern Indian Ocean, detailed mapping of the ocean floor, and the contracting of specialists to search for the missing aircraft’s debris field.

The mapping of the ocean floor will take up to three months. This will be followed by a renewed underwater search, which will commence in August.

The JACC’s announcement follows the release earlier this week of raw satellite data detailing MH370’s ‘handshakes’ with an Inmarsat satellite on 8 March, before the aircraft apparently ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean.

The release of the data is part of an effort to bring greater transparency to the search for MH370, the loss of which claimed the lives of 227 passengers and 12 crew. The disclosure of the Inmarsat data will also give external consultants and experts an opportunity to examine the data, which has so far provided the only clue to the final position of the lost aircraft.