Flight MH370: Australia debris ‘not from plane’

DEBRIS that washed ashore in south-west Australia is not from the missing Malaysian Airlines plane, experts have said.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force plane searches for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in March. Picture: AP

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has told search co-ordinators that the material - which washed ashore six miles east of Augusta in Western Australia - is not from missing Flight 370, according to the Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre.

Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the safety bureau, said initial analysis of what appeared to be sheet metal with rivets suggested it was not from the plane.

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“We do not consider this likely to be of use to our search for MH370,” he said.

Augusta is near Australia’s south-western tip, about 190 miles from Perth, where the search has been headquartered.

The search coordination centre also said a robotic submarine, the US Navy’s Bluefin 21, had scanned more than 90% of the 120-square mile sea bed search zone off the Australian west coast, creating a three-dimensional sonar map of the ocean floor, but had found nothing of interest.

The 2.8-mile deep search area is a circle 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 believed to be dead.

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said 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.

Next phase of search

Defence 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 on March 8. Details are likely to be announced next week.

Mr Johnston said more powerful towed side-scan commercial sonar equipment would probably be deployed, similar to the remote-controlled subs that found the Titanic 12,500 feet under the Atlantic Ocean in 1985 and the Australian Second World War wreck HMAS Sydney in the Indian Ocean off the Australian coast, north of the current search area, in 2008.

While the Bluefin had less than one-fifth of the sea bed search area to complete, Mr Johnston estimated that task would take another two weeks.

Mr Abbott said the airliner’s probable impact zone was 430 miles long and 50 miles wide. A new search strategy will be adopted if nothing is found in the current sea bed search zone.

“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,” 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, Mr Johnston said, adding that the sea bed in the vicinity of the search was up to four miles deep.

An air search involving up to 11 planes is to examine an area of nearly 50,000 square kilometres centred about 1,600km (1,000 miles) north west of Perth. Eleven ships will also join the search.

Radar and satellite data show the jet veered far off course on March 8 for unknown reasons during its flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing.

An analysis indicates it would have run out of fuel in the remote section of ocean where the search has been focused. But not one piece of confirmed debris has been found since the massive multi-national hunt began.