KUALA LUMPUR – A U.S. exploration firm has begun searching for Malaysia Airline flight MH370, which veered far off course and disappeared on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board, the chief of Malaysia’s aviation regulator said Tuesday.
Ocean Infinity Ltd.’s 65-crew-member Seabed Constructor vessel commenced the search in the southern Indian Ocean by launching a number of autonomous underwater vehicles, or AUVs, early Monday, Department of Civil Aviation Director General Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said in a statement.
The Malaysian government signed a “no cure, no fee” deal with Ocean Infinity on Jan. 10 wherein the deep-sea exploration firm would be only paid between $20 million and $70 million if it succeeds in locating the debris field or the flight data and cockpit voice recorder within 90 days.
The vessel will scour a new search area of 25,000 sq. km that was mapped by the Australian-based Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization earlier.
Azharuddin said the latest mission involves 65 crew, including two personnel from the Malaysian navy.
According to Ocean Infinity, the vessel carries eight AUVs equipped with side scan sonar and other high-technology gadgets and capable of operating in waters up to 6,000 meters deep.
The submersibles can cover 1,200 sq. km a day and the entire 25,000 sq. km area within three to four weeks.
The Boeing 777 vanished from radar less than 40 minutes after taking off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport just after midnight on March 8, 2014, heading to Beijing with 239 people on board. Over two-thirds of the passengers were Chinese.
Based on radar and satellite communications, the plane was calculated to have plunged into the southern Indian Ocean, sparking a massive hunt led by Australia.
After nearly three years of combing 120,000 sq. km in one of the world’s toughest maritime terrains without success, the Malaysian, Chinese and Australian governments in January last year decided to suspend the search until “credible new information” becomes available.
The decision was made despite CSIRO putting forward a potential final resting place for the plane within a 25,000 square km in 2016.
CSIRO had made the calculation based on the drift patterns of the flaperon, the first debris belonging to the ill-fated flight that was found in 2015 in Reunion Island, a French territory some 500 km east of Madagascar.