(AA) – The search area for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will be expanded by 60,000 square kilometers, if no trace of the ill-fated aircraft is found in the current search zone in the southern Indian Ocean.
The decision to expand the search has been mutually agreed by the governments of Malaysia, Australia and China, Malaysia’s Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told a press conference Thursday.
News of the new search brings to an end months of speculation by families of those missing that the hunt for flight MH370 would end after the present search wraps up at the end of May.
The additional 60,000 square kilometers (23,000-square-miles) would complete the 120,000 square kilometer search area identified by experts as the potential location of the missing plane.
Speaking after a tripartite meeting between the three countries’ transport ministers in Malysian capital Kuala Lumpur, Liow reiterated that Malaysia, Australia and China are committed to continue the search operations, although a year has now passed since MH370 vanished March 8 last year.
Also at the press meet was Australia Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss and Chinese Transport Minister Yang Chuantang.
Truss said the three nations remain optimistic of finding Flight MH370, and in turn answering the thousands of questions surrounding the plane’s disappearance that have arisen in the past 13 months.
“We need to understand how the incident occurred & how to prevent it from happening again,” he said.
The transport minister for China – from where a majority of the passengers were from – reiterated that the search would not stop, and the governments will sacrifice all resources to find the MH370.
“The future search will bring new challenges, but we must continue to search for the plane. China will continue to cooperate with Australia and Malaysia to find the plane’s location, so we can give the families of passengers and crew some answers,” he added.
A joint statement from the trio added that the additional search could take another 12 months.
“Ministers recognize the additional search area may take up to a year to complete given the adverse weather conditions in the upcoming winter months,” the statement said.
“Upon completion of the additional 60,000 square kilometers, all high probability search areas would have been covered.”
Truss said Malaysia, Australia and China would continue to share the costs of the additional search, as had been the case previously.
However, no estimate of costs was given.