SYDNEY (dpa) – The search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 entered a new phase Sunday as special vessels arrived in the southern Indian Ocean to probe canyons and peaks 6,000 metres under the surface of the ocean.
The new search began after months of technical analysis and mapping of the sea floor in a huge area where the plane carrying 239 people is believed to have gone down.
A vessel fitted with special sonar and cameras mounted on deep sea drones arrived Sunday over the newly mapped area, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) announced.
The vessel GO Phoenix arrived in the area where the sea floor is riven with deep canyons, high rides and towering volcanic peaks.
The Dutch deep sea survey vessel Fugro Discovery arrived in Perth Sunday for restocking and will join the GO Phoenix by Friday, officials said.
A third ship, the Fugro Equator will join the search at the end of October. It has been involved in mapping the area and is being converted for the search phase.
The ships have been contracted jointly by Malaysia and Australia. More than 111,000 square kilometres of the previously unknown floor of Indian Ocean has been mapped so far.
The search area was moved south after new calculations led experts to believe the plane may have travelled further before running out of fuel and dropping into the ocean.
The 60,000-square-kilometre search area is 1,800 kilometres south west of Perth, a thin but long line indicated by the last contact with the plane that disappeared on March 8.
The search for the plane could take up to a year. Each ship has around 30 crew operating in 12-hour shifts, but they must return to Perth to refuel and resupply every 30 days.
Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the ATSB which is leading the operation, told the Guardian newspaper that he was “cautiously optimistic,” but noted that the area was area and they were operating at the limits of today’s technology.
Malaysia and Australia are each contributing 60 million dollars to the search effort.