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Chief coordinator of the Joint Agency Coordination Center, retired Chief Air Marshall Angus Houston gestures as he speaks during a press conference in Perth, Australia. / Rob Griffith, AP

BEIJING ?? After 53 days of fruitless, government-led efforts on sea and by air, the team searching for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will identify and deploy more sophisticated underwater equipment from private companies, officials from Australia, Malaysia and China agreed Monday.

Announcing a new phase in the multinational hunt, Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said the search of the ocean floor will be intensified and expanded over a much larger area than has been covered to date.

The plane disappeared March 8 with 239 passengers and crew en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The majority of passengers were Chinese citizens. Using satellite data, investigators concluded the plane ended in the southern Indian Ocean, thousands of miles off route, but no wreckage has been found.

The U.S. Navy's Bluefin-21, an unmanned submarine fitted with sonar, will continue to scan the target area, a thousand miles off Australia's west coast, Truss told a press conference Monday in Canberra. But tenders will soon be put out for specialist vehicles that can dive deeper than Bluefin-21 and recover debris, and also for towed sonar equipment to conduct more detailed underwater mapping of sea floor that "has never been mapped", he said.

More hardware will be "in the water" in the next two months, said Truss, who promised there would be no long interruptions in the search as occurred during the two-year hunt for the black boxes of the 2009 Air France disaster. At a meeting Wednesday in Canberra, experts from the three countries will discuss what other assets are required for the search's new phase, he said.The extreme depths involved mean there are "only a handful of pieces of relevant machinery in the world," and few oceanographic vessels capable of mapping such depths, said Truss, who expects the private sector to provide most of the required equipment. Towed sonar will permit real-time sharing of information and quicker response times, unlike the Bluefin-21 which must be recovered for data download, he said.

That meeting will also perform "something of an audit" of all the information gathered to date, including the satellite data, he said. Despite the failure to locate a single piece of MH370, search coordinator Angus Houston said he still believes searchers are correct to place most weight on the satellite analysis that led them to the current search area. But he welcomed the review of all the information that took them there.


"It's very sensible to go back" to ensure "there are no flaws in that, the assumptions are right, the analysis is right, and the deductions and conclusions are right," Houston said in Canberra Monday.

Compared to other plane crashes, "we've got very little to work on," admitted Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who still insisted the searchers "are on the right track."

All nations involved have borne their own costs to date, said Truss. Hussein doubted that private firms would need the lure of a reward to get involved. "The whole tragedy has caught the imagination of so many," he said Monday. "There's no reward big enough," said Hussein, adding that any company that found the plane would immediately become the most famous in the world.

China's Transport Minister Yang Chuantang promised Monday that Beijing will continue uninterrupted and intensified efforts to search for MH370, he said after the trilateral meeting.




Copyright 2014USA TODAY

Read the original story: All Flight 370 data to be re-examined

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