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Search for Malaysia Airlines jet shifts south


(FILES) This file photo taken from a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P-3K2-Orion aircraft on April 13, 2014 shows co-pilot and Squadron Leader Brett McKenzie helping to look for objects during the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, far off the coast of Perth. Missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was "highly, highly likely" on autopilot when it ran out of fuel and crashed, Australian officials said on June 26, 2014 as they announced the search will shift further south. Photo - AFP

Sydney: The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 will shift south along a narrow arc identified as the most likely resting place of the plane, the Australia's deputy prime minister said on Thursday.

"The new priority area is still focused on the seventh arc, where the aircraft last communicated with satellite. We are now shifting our attention to an area further south along the arc based on these calculations," Warren Truss said.

The Boeing 777, carrying 239 passengers and crew, disappeared on March 8 shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing.

Investigators say what little evidence they have to work with suggests the aeroplane was deliberately diverted thousands of kilometres from its scheduled route before eventually crashing into the Indian Ocean.

The search was narrowed in April after a series of acoustic pings thought to be from the plane's black box recorders were heard along a final arc where analysis of satellite data put its last location.

But a month later, officials conceded the wreckage was not in that concentrated area, some 1,600 km (1,000 miles) off the northwest coast of Australia, and the search area would have to be expanded.

"The new priority area is still focused on the seventh arc, where the aircraft last communicated with satellite. We are now shifting our attention to an area further south along the arc," Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said.

Truss said the new priority search area was determined after a review of satellite data and early radar information as the plane suddenly diverted across the Malaysian peninsular and headed south into one of the remotest areas of the planet.

"It is highly, highly likely that the aircraft was on autopilot otherwise it could not have followed the orderly path that has been identified through the satellite sightings," Truss told reporters in Canberra.

Two vessels, one Chinese and one from Dutch engineering company Fugro are currently mapping the seafloor along the arc, where depths exceed 5,000 metres in parts.

The next phase of the search mission is expected to start in August and take a year, covering some 60,000 sq kilometres of ocean at a cost of A$60 million ($56 million) or more. The search is already the most expensive in aviation history.

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