Possible Plane Material Near Australia 04/23 06:10
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Unidentified material that has washed ashore in
southwestern Australia is being examined for any link to the lost Malaysian
plane, authorities said Wednesday.
Police secured the material, which washed ashore 10 kilometers (6 miles)
east of Augusta in Western Australia state, the search coordination center said
in a statement, without describing the material found. The Australian Transport
Safety Bureau is examining photographs to assess whether further investigation
is needed and if the material is relevant to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Augusta is near Australia's southwestern tip, about 310 kilometers (190
miles) from Perth, where the search has been headquartered.
Meanwhile, Australia's prime minister said Wednesday that failure to find
any clue in the most likely crash site of the lost jet would not spell the end
of the search, as officials plan soon to bring in more powerful sonar equipment
that can delve deeper beneath the Indian Ocean.
The search coordination center said a robotic submarine, the U.S. Navy's
Bluefin 21, had scanned more than 80 percent of the 310-square-kilometer
(120-square-mile) seabed search zone off the Australian west coast, creating a
three-dimensional sonar map of the ocean floor. Nothing of interest had been
The 4.5-kilometer (2.8-mile) deep search area is a circle 20 kilometers (12
miles) wide around an area where sonar equipment picked up a signal on April 8
consistent with a plane's black boxes. But the batteries powering those signals
are now dead.
Defense Minister David Johnston said Australia was consulting with Malaysia,
China and the United States on the next phase of the search for the plane,
which disappeared March 8. Details on the next phase are likely to be announced
Johnston said more powerful towed side-scan commercial sonar equipment would
probably be deployed, similar to the remote-controlled subs that found RMS
Titanic 3,800 meters (12,500 feet) under the Atlantic Ocean in 1985 and the
Australian WWII wreck HMAS Sydney in the Indian Ocean off the Australian coast,
north of the current search area, in 2008.
"The next phase, I think, is that we step up with potentially a more
powerful, more capable side-scan sonar to do deeper water," Johnston told The
While the Bluefin had less than one-fifth of the seabed search area to
complete, Johnston estimated that task would take another two weeks.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the airliner's probable impact
zone was 700 kilometers (430 miles) long and 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide. A
new search strategy would be adopted if nothing was found in the current seabed
"If at the end of that period we find nothing, we are not going to abandon
the search, we may well rethink the search, but we will not rest until we have
done everything we can to solve this mystery," Abbott told reporters.
"We owe it to the families of the 239 people on board, we owe it to the
hundreds of millions --- indeed billions --- of people who travel by air to try
to get to the bottom of this. The only way we can get to the bottom of this is
to keep searching the probable impact zone until we find something or until we
have searched it as thoroughly as human ingenuity allows at this time," he said.
The focus of the next search phase will be decided by continuing analysis of
information including flight data and sound detections of the suspected
beacons, Johnston said.
"A lot of this seabed has not even been hydrographically surveyed before ---
some of it has --- but we're flying blind," he said, adding that the seabed in
the vicinity of the search was up to 7 kilometers (4 miles) deep.
The search center said an air search involving 10 planes was suspended for a
second day because of heavy seas and poor visibility.
But 12 ships would join Wednesday's search of an expanse covering 38,000
square kilometers (14,500 square miles), centered 1,600 kilometers (1,000
miles) northwest of Perth.
Radar and satellite data show the jet carrying 239 passengers and crew
veered far off course on March 8 for unknown reasons during its flight from
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. Analysis indicates it would have run out of
fuel in the remote section of ocean where the search has been focused. Not one
piece of debris has been found since the massive multinational hunt began.