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Joint Agency Coordination Centre

Search for MH370

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared on 8 March 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board.

Current Status

Current search efforts continue to be focused along the seventh arc in the southern Indian Ocean associated with the final ‘handshake’ between the aircraft and the satellite ground station. The search area is 120,000 square kilometres in size and depending on weather conditions, may take until after August 2016 to complete.

[Click map to view larger image]

Three vessels—Fugro Discovery, Fugro Equator and Dong Hai Jiu 101—are currently deployed for the underwater search. As at July 2016, more than 110,000 square kilometres had been searched.

In the event the aircraft is found and accessible, Australia, Malaysia and the People's Republic of China have agreed to plans for recovery activities, including securing all the evidence necessary for the accident investigation.

Background

Initial Search

On 17 March 2014, following discussions between Australian Prime Minister the Hon Tony Abbott MP and Malaysian Prime Minister Dato' Sri Najib Tun Razak, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) assumed responsibility for coordination of the surface search for Malaysia Airlines MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean in Australia's search and rescue region.

The initial search phase involved 22 military aircraft and 19 ships from eight countries, covering search areas of more than 4.6 million square kilometres. Civilian aircraft contracted to AMSA also participated in the search.

  • MH370 Facts and Statistics—Surface Search of the Southern Indian Ocean PDF: 39 KB ReadSpeaker

Following Malaysia's 24 March 2014 announcement that flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean, the search transitioned to a search and recovery operation led by Australia. The surface search continued to be coordinated by AMSA, and was supported by the Australian Defence Force and other agencies.

On 26 March 2014, Australia accepted Malaysia's invitation to participate as an Accredited Representative in its investigation into MH370's disappearance and to provide all possible assistance and expertise to the investigation in line with the provisions of Annex 13 of the Chicago Convention. The investigation team established by Malaysia comprises Accredited Representatives from 7 countries, and Australia is represented by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

Subsequently on 28 April 2014, former Australian Prime Minister the Hon Tony Abbott MP announced that it was highly unlikely that any aircraft debris remained on the ocean surface and therefore the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 would move to a new intensified underwater search.

At a Tripartite Meeting on 5 May 2014, Malaysia, China and Australia agreed that the next phase of the search for MH370 involved three major stages:

  • reviewing all existing information and analysis to define a priority search zone of up to 60,000 square kilometres along the seventh arc in the southern Indian Ocean;
  • conducting a bathymetric survey to map the sea floor in the defined search area; and
  • acquiring the specialist services required for a comprehensive search of the sea floor in that area.

As agreed with Malaysia and China, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) led this work for Australia.

Definition of the Search Area

All the evidence—based on independent analysis of satellite, radar and aircraft performance data from many international experts—has indicated that the aircraft entered the sea close to a long but narrow arc in the southern Indian Ocean. This arc has been the focus of the search efforts since late March 2014.

The ATSB is responsible for defining the search area and has been coordinating a search strategy group since May 2014. The group has worked to define the most probable position of the aircraft at the time of the last satellite communications. The group brings together satellite and aircraft specialists from the following organisations:

  • Air Accidents Investigation Branch (UK)
  • Boeing (US)
  • Defence Science and Technology Organisation (Australia)
  • Department of Civil Aviation (Malaysia)
  • Inmarsat (UK)
  • National Transportation Safety Board (US)
  • Thales.

For more information on definition of the search area, please refer to MH370 Flight Path Analysis Update.

The work of the search strategy group is ongoing and it has continued to review evidence associated with MH370. One element of that ongoing work was to engage the Defence Science and Technology Group to provide expert analysis of available data relating to MH370. That analysis has informed the ATSB's latest report, published on 3 December 2015, MH370—Definition of Underwater Search Area Update.

This latest analysis affirms the focus of efforts to date and identifies areas within the 120,000 square kilometre search zone with the highest probability of containing the aircraft.

Bathymetry

Bathymetry survey has been undertaken since May 2014 by various vessels to scan the sea floor with multibeam sonar to gather detailed, high-resolution data.

To date, around 240,000 square kilometres of the wide search area have been analysed and mapped. This data is crucial as it provides information on the seabed terrain to ensure the underwater search equipment can be operated safely.

Underwater Search

The underwater search is a comprehensive search of the sea floor for the final resting place of flight MH370. In addition to locating the aircraft, the underwater search aims to map the MH370 debris field in order to identify and prioritise the recovery of specific aircraft components, including flight recorders, which will assist with the Malaysian investigation. The underwater search uses vehicles equipped with side scan sonar, synthetic aperture sonar, and multibeam echo sounders, with video cameras available to be deployed to locate and identify MH370.

Three vessels—Fugro Discovery, Fugro Equator, and Dong Hai Jiu 101—are currently deployed for the underwater search.

Aircraft Wreckage

To date one item of debris has been confirmed as coming from MH370 and four further items determined to be almost certainly from the aircraft.

The finding of aircraft wreckage—on La Reunion in the Indian Ocean as well as Rodrigues Island and along the east coast of Africa—is consistent with drift modelling performed by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and affirms the focus of search efforts in the southern Indian Ocean.

The Challenge

The search is unprecedented.

The complexities surrounding the search are immense. The wide search area is a remote and previously unmapped area 1.1 million square kilometres in size. The bathymetric survey work shows the complexity of the terrain, with water depths of up to 6,000 metres. The search area contains underwater mountains, crevasses, ridges and 2,000 metre sheer cliffs, all of which may slow down the search.

Timeframe

At a meeting of Ministers from Australia, Malaysia and the People's Republic of China held in Kuala Lumpur on 16 April 2015, it was agreed that the search area would be expanded to 120,000 square kilometres, thereby covering the entire highest probability area identified by expert analysis.

It is anticipated that searching the remaining area may take until after August 2016 to complete.

In the absence of credible new information that leads to the identification of a specific location of the aircraft, Malaysia, the People's Republic of China and Australia have agreed that there will be no further expansion of the search area.

However, in the event the aircraft is found and accessible, Australia, Malaysia and the People's Republic of China have agreed to plans for recovery activities, including securing all the evidence necessary for the accident investigation.