April 23, 2014 – Australia said Wednesday cost was not a concern in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, after the mini-sub plumbing the depths of the Indian Ocean for wreckage ended its ninth mission empty-handed.
Australia is leading the multinational search for the Boeing 777 which vanished on March 8 carrying 239 people, and is bearing many of the costs of the mission expected to be the most expensive in aviation history.
“There will be some issues of costs into the future but this is not about costs,” Defence Minister David Johnston told reporters in Canberra.
“We want to find this aircraft. We want to say to our friends in Malaysia and China this is not about cost, we are concerned to be seen to be helping them in a most tragic circumstance.”
China, whose citizens made up two-thirds of the passengers onboard the ill-fated flight, and Malaysia are among eight countries including Australia which have committed assets to the Indian Ocean search.
But with no confirmed sightings of debris from the flight on the surface so far, the search moved underwater nearly two weeks ago and is yet to find any sign of the aircraft.
Speaking to reporters in Canberra, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said searchers still believed the plane crashed in the Indian Ocean.
“Our expert advice is that the aircraft went down somewhere in the Indian Ocean where they have identified a probable impact zone which is about 700 kilometres (435 miles) long, about 80 kilometres wide,” he said.
Abbott said based on the detections from what Australia still believed was the black box recorder, an underwater search area of just under 400 square kilometres (154 square miles) was being scoured.
“We haven’t finished the search, we haven’t found anything yet in the area that we’re searching, but the point I make is that Australia will not rest until we have done everything we humanly can to get to the bottom of this mystery,” he said.
Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said the device looking for the plane on the seabed had scanned more than 80 per cent of its target zone and was now on its 10th dive.
“No contacts of interest have been found to date,” it said.
The torpedo-shaped autonomous underwater vehicle called a Bluefin-21 is searching an area at least 4,500 metres (15,000 feet) deep defined by a 10-kilometre radius around a detection of a signal believed to be from the plane’s black box heard on April 8.
A surface search involving up to 10 military aircraft and 12 ships was also scheduled for Wednesday, despite suggestions last week that this effort would be scaled down in coming days.
JACC later suspended the air search activities due to bad weather, which had resulted in heavy seas and poor visibility, but said the ships would continue their work.
The visual hunt covers an area totalling about 37,948 square kilometres some 855 kilometres northwest of Perth, JACC said.
Johnston said Australia was tracking the cost of the mission, and if the Bluefin-21 failed to spot wreckage the search would move into a new phase, but said Canberra was committed to the task.
“We move to the next phase which is a more intensive single sideband sonar type programme, I suspect, but let’s take advice of the experts as to where we go forward,” he said.
Johnston said Australia was talking with its partners about the assets needed for the next phase of the search for the plane which mysteriously diverted en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Abbott said Australia would not abandon the search and let down the families of the six Australians and 233 other people onboard “by likely surrendering while there is reasonable hope of finding something”.
“At the moment we are conducting an underwater search with the best equipment that is currently available,” he said.
“If at the end of that period, we find nothing, we are not going to abandon the search. We may well re-think the search, but we will not rest until we have done everything we can to solve this mystery.”