SYDNEY — Missing Malaysia flight MH370 is almost certainly not in the current search zone in the remote Indian Ocean but could be further north, officials said on Tuesday, nearly three years after the hunt began.
No trace has been found in the massive underwater search off Australia for the jet lost en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, carrying 239 passengers and crew.
However, more than 20 pieces of debris recovered mostly on western Indian Ocean shorelines has been identified as likely, or definitely, from the doomed Malaysia Airlines plane.
With scouring of the wild 120,000 square kilometre area of sea coming to an end, Australian and international experts, including from Boeing and Inmarsat, met in Canberra last month to review their evidence and modelling.
They concluded the plane was not where they have been looking, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which has been leading the mission, said in a report.
"There is a high degree of confidence that the previously identified underwater area searched to date does not contain the missing aircraft," it said.
The area being searched was initially based on satellite analysis of the jet’s likely trajectory after it diverted from its flight path coupled with aircraft dynamics and meteorological data.
This indicated the last known location was somewhere along an arc sweeping north into Central Asia or south into the Indian Ocean. The northern corridor was quickly discounted in the belief the plane would have been detected.
The report said updated satellite and debris drift modelling results "present strong evidence that the aircraft is most likely to be located to the north of the current indicative underwater search area".
It identified an area of approximately 25,000 square kilometres "with the highest probability of containing the wreckage of the aircraft".
"The experts concluded that, if this area were to be searched, prospective areas for locating the aircraft wreckage, based on all the analysis to date, would be exhausted," the report added.
Up to Malaysia
A final sweep of the existing search zone is underway with the last vessel looking for MH370 -- Fugro Equator -- leaving for the southern Indian Ocean from Australia last week.
Before returning to port in January it is to examine some 200 small areas which were either too deep for previous missions or were not properly examined due to poor sonar readings.
The governments of Australia, Malaysia and China, where most of the passengers were from, have previously agreed to pull the plug on the operation once the current search area was fully scoured unless "credible new information" emerged.
The ATSB said international protocols dictated that it was up to Malaysia to decide what happens next.
Many next-of-kin of missing passengers have repeatedly complained about the lack of a coordinated search in the western Indian Ocean and along the African coast.
A group of relatives recently went to Madagascar, combing beaches for clues about the lost plane, after fragments identified with "near certainty" as coming from MH370 were discovered on the coast of East Africa.
With neither the location nor the cause of the crash known, many wild conspiracy theories have surfaced, including that it was a hijacking, terror plot, or rogue pilot action. — AFP