The Australian Transport Safety Bureau expects the underwater search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that operated flight MH370 to wrap up towards the end of the year.
In its latest update on the ongoing search efforts, the Bureau says it anticipates completing the search on the 120,000 square kilometre area in the southern Indian Ocean “by approximately December 2016”.
More than 110,000 square kilometres has been covered so far, although poor weather has hampered search efforts in recent weeks.
The vessel Fugro Equator is continuing its search efforts, while Dong Hai Jin 101 is at anchor off Fremantle undertaking maintenance ahead of further missions.
“It is anticipated that around October weather conditions will have improved sufficiently to allow the deployment of a Remotely Operated Vehicles from Dong Hai Jiu 101. This equipment will be used to further investigate a range of sonar contacts,” the Bureau adds.
The governments of Australia, China and Malaysia have agreed to suspend the underwater search once the full area has been covered, should there be no further leads.
One vessel, Fugro Discovery, has already been released from the mission, and has sailed to Singapore for its next assignment.
The ATSB adds that drift modelling in association with the Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organisation continues, with the aim of establishing how pieces of aircraft debris may have drifted over time.
In the coming months, the two organisations will set adrift a model of the flaperon found off Reunion Island fitted with satellite trackers in an attempt to establish the drift pattern and direction of possible debris.
“On its own this information will not be able to identify the precise location of the aircraft,” the ASTB says. “It is hoped, however, that when added to our existing knowledge and any future learnings a specific location of the aircraft will be able to be identified.”
Flight MH370 disappeared in the early hours of 8 March 2014 while enroute from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. A Malaysian investigation has concluded that the aircraft ended its flight over the southern Indian Ocean.