Interview: Search team remains hopeful to find MH370 in priority area: JACC chief coordinator

2015-03-08 01:21:12 GMT2015-03-08 09:21:12(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

by Xinhua Writer Xu Haijing

CANBERRA, March 8 (Xinhua) -- Exactly one year ago, a Malaysia Airline aircraft took off from Kuala Lumpur airport and disappeared in the darkness of the sky, leaving the world with one of the greatest aviation mystery in history.

Twelve months on, search vessels are working non-stop in the heart of the southern Indian Ocean, wishing to bring an answer to the tragedy.

Four ships, with a crew of 35 people each, are working in 12- hour shifts scanning the ocean floor. Every 45 days, the ships go back to Freemantle, Western Australia, for supply. It takes them 6 days of sailing from where they are conducting the search to Freemantle and another 6 days to go back.

So far, 26,000 square kilometers of area has been searched and not a single piece of debris of MH370 has been found.

"I am frustrated like the families. And the rest of the team also. Having said that though, we still have over 50 percent of the search area to go. We still have a sizable area that we haven' t searched. We need to remember that," said Judith Zielke, Chief Coordinator of the Joint Agency Coordination Center for the search of the MH370 (JACC).

That 260,000 square kilometer area is within the 60,000 square kilometer priority search area which has been set by a group of international experts based on the "handshake" data provided by the satellite provider Inmarsat, apart from a wider search area of 1.1 million square kilometers.

"The wide search area which is 1.1 million square kilometer has remained the same since April last year. It's based on original ' handshake' information released by Inmarsat. That's factual information. It shows where the aircraft turned and it turned south. That can't be questioned, it's factual information," Zielke said.

"We are confident the aircraft is in that wide search area of 1. 1 million square kilometers. Our challenge is to find where within that huge area. The size and scale of the search is unprecedented. This has not been attempted before. We are talking about an area that ultimately is about two thirds the size of the whole Australia. The area we are searching at the moment is slightly smaller than Tasmania within Australia."

The most recent update to the search area were announced in October last year. Since then, more analysis work has been continuing and has only continue to highlight that search area is the right area, Zielke said.

Despite the fact that no debris has been found, the crew on the ships are highly motivated by keeping regular contact with families through the JACC, whose job is to "keep the communications flow."

Zielke said JACC received emails every day, expressing gratitude for what Australia is doing. Australia committed 90 million AU dollars (70.2 million U.S. dollars) to the search, of which 60 million dollars have been paid directly for vessels and equipment in relation to the underwater search activities. Malaysia matched Australia's contribution.

Zielke wouldn't predict what moves would be taken as the next step if the search of the remaining half of the priority area completes in May with no luck, saying it is for the governments of Malaysia, China and Australia to decide, taking into account many possible scenarios.

"You may be aware Australia recently through Australian Transport Safety Board went out with a tender process and ask for expression of interest from firms around the world to give indication of what equipment and vessels would be required for a recovery operation. Obviously, that information has been thought to be able to inform decisions for governments in relation to what would be undertaken in a recovery scenario just as we are also planning for decisions on other scenarios moving forward as well."

"At this moment, we are focused on locating in the current priority area. We have over 50 percent of the area still to be finished. I remain hopeful we can locate the aircraft in that area, " she said.

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