Missing Malaysia Airlines jet: Australia focuses search on southern Indian Ocean

Searching section of water the size of France

Australian officials are focusing search efforts for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner on a section of water that’s roughly the size of France.

John Young, the general manager for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s Emergency Response Division, spoke about the search at a news conference Tuesday, saying crews are scouring a region in the southern Indian Ocean that covers 230,000 square miles.

Young compared the situation to looking for a needle in a haystack, ABC reported.

“This search will be difficult. The sheer size of the search area poses a huge challenge,” he said.

The search is beginning in a smaller, 1,150-square-mile area to the southwest of Perth. Four Royal Australian Air Force Orions, one New Zealand P-3 Orion and a U.S. P-8 Poseidon will search the waters for the Boeing jetliner, which disappeared March 8.

Members of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board contributed research to Australian authorities, Young said, helping officials define the search area.

As Young spoke, he was flanked by maps showing the southern and northern search regions. Those regions were shaped by the plane’s interactions with satellites. The plane continued to ping satellites for up to seven hours, identifying the plane’s location along corridors to the north or south.

While investigators are still searching along the northern corridor, that area includes nations whose radar would have likely picked up a sign of the plane. The southern corridor would have taken the plane over open water to a point off Australia’s western coast. The search area in the Indian Ocean was developed in accordance with the plane’s last radio transmission, with water movement and weather taken into account.

“There are some assumptions built in there. ... What we're doing is producing our best estimate of the most likely place to search,” Young said.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was carrying 239 people when it went missing 10 days ago, with 26 countries contributing to the search. Malaysia officials, who have coordinated overall search efforts, are scheduled to hold a news conference later today.