'This will be a long-haul effort'

21:17, Mar 22 2014
The MH370 story in pictures
The saga begins on March 8, when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 departs Kuala Lumpur at 12:41am, local time. On board are 227 passengers and 12 crew.
The MH370 story in pictures
Captaining the flight of the Boeing 777-200 is 53-year old Zaharie Ahmad Shah, shown here on the right.
The MH370 story in pictures
At 1:21am the MH370's transponder stops signalling, halting the regular responses it usually gives to radar signals. The plane makes a series of strange but controlled movements, turning west sharply, then climbing above its designed height limit and back down.
The MH370 story in pictures
At 1.30am, on point 4, the plane is spotted for the last time on civilian radar. At 2.15am, on point 5, military radar spots it, although it is not clear at the time that this was MH370. Satellite data suggests the plane could also have angled towards point 6.
The MH370 story in pictures
At 6.32am air traffic control in Kuala Lumpur sends a radio signal on an emergency channel asking MH370 to contact them. The plane is now overdue at Beijing Airport, shown.
The MH370 story in pictures
Relatives of passengers despair, and the search begins.
The MH370 story in pictures
International news media focus on the story immediately.
The MH370 story in pictures
Multiple false leads pop up, like this oil spotted by a Vietnamese search plane.
The MH370 story in pictures
Malaysian government and airline officials have released confusing and contradictory information. Here, Malaysian Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, left, and Department of Civil Aviation director general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman take questions at a press conference.
The MH370 story in pictures
Concerns are raised when it becomes apparent that two Iranian men, shown here, boarded the plane with stolen passports. Interpol rejects the suggestion of terrorism, however, concluding the men were probably asylum seekers.
The MH370 story in pictures
The search intensifies, covering new areas with a wide array of international support.
The MH370 story in pictures
The search intensifies, covering new areas with a wide array of international support.
The MH370 story in pictures
The search intensifies, covering new areas with a wide array of international support.
The MH370 story in pictures
The search intensifies, covering new areas with a wide array of international support.
The MH370 story in pictures
The search intensifies, covering new areas with a wide array of international support.
The MH370 story in pictures
Outpourings of grief and support are expressed worldwide.
The MH370 story in pictures
Outpourings of grief and support are expressed worldwide.
The MH370 story in pictures
Outpourings of grief and support are expressed worldwide.
The MH370 story in pictures
Outpourings of grief and support are expressed worldwide.
The MH370 story in pictures
Outpourings of grief and support are expressed worldwide.
The MH370 story in pictures
The anguish of the relatives is palpable.
The MH370 story in pictures
The anguish of the relatives is palpable.
The MH370 story in pictures
The anguish of the relatives is palpable.
The MH370 story in pictures
The anguish of the relatives is palpable.
The MH370 story in pictures
Theories abound. Fellow pilot Chris Goodfellow has suggested that a tyre may have caught fire, causing the pilots to turn towards the closest suitable airport, with the rapid ascent and descent perhaps representing an attempt to extinguish the fire. Critics of this theory have pointed out that the change in path was programmed into the plane's computer 12 minutes before the calm toned "good night" transmission, suggesting the change in course was planned.
The MH370 story in pictures
Given the amount of fuel on board, the plane could have made it as far north as Kazakhstan, on a possible flight path shown in orange.
The MH370 story in pictures
Or somewhere southwest of Australia, on a possible flight path shown in orange.
The MH370 story in pictures
Others have speculated that the pilot or co-pilot may have intentionally crashed the plane. The FBI is trying to restore deleted simulator-flights from Pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah's computer – but these could be innocuous. Critics of the crash theory say neither the pilot nor co-pilot had ever expressed any kind of radical sentiment or displayed mental issues, and both possessed adequate flying experience.
The MH370 story in pictures
The ever-present worry of terrorism remains. No groups have claimed responsibility for the incident, and a political motivation is unclear - but that doesn't rule it out.
MH370
On March 20, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told his parliament that objects had been spotted in waters hundreds of kilometres off the western Australian coast. Further searches, by Australian, New Zealand and US planes, were needed to find out if they were part of the missing plane.
Perth
The crew of one of two Chinese Air Force Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft used in the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 walk away from their plane in Perth.
MH370 search
Thirty-eight days after the plane went missing, an Australian navy ship is guided into position by a Royal New Zealand Airforce P-3K2 Orion aircraft. Officials say they will deploy an underwater robot to aid in the hunt.
MH370
Announcing that an underwater drone will be deployed imminently, Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre chief Angus Houston says an oil slick has been detected in the search area for the missing plane.

Authorities in Kuala Lumpur admit that two weeks after Malaysia Airlines MH370 vanished they are pursuing no strong leads and may never unlock one of the most baffling mysteries of modern aviation.

As scrutiny of all 239 people on board has failed to uncover any links to terrorism or extremist organisations, frustrated officials say they are preparing for the "long haul" to find the plane's sensitive black box recorder that provides the only real hope of discovering what happened on board the ill-fated flight.

Even if two blurred objects photographed from space are confirmed to be debris from the plane, searches will still face a daunting task to find the recorder in volcanic ridge waters of the southern Indian Ocean as deep as 4,000 metres.

Radio beacons on the plane have a battery life of about 30 days, leaving only 16 days for the Australian-led search to find them before the signals die.

Malaysian officials concede the search is beyond Malaysia's technical capabilities and expertise.

US defence secretary Chuck Hagel said Saturday the US is considering a request from Malaysia to provide undersea surveillance equipment to help in the search as aircraft ships and helicopters from China and Japan head into the Indian Ocean.

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Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia's acting transport minister who is in charge of coordinating a 25-nation search from Central Asia to the far reaches of the Southern Ocean, admitted investigators do not have any leads into how the plane came to lose its communications and turn back from its scheduled flight path over the South China Sea on March 8.

Investigators have not ruled out any possibility for what happened but have said evidence so far points to a "deliberate action" onboard.

Another possible scenario under investigation is that a mechanical or electrical event, or a bomb, created a hole in the fuselage. As the plane depressurised and its communications system shut down, the pilots turned the plane around before becoming unconscious.

Under this scenario, the plane flew on for eight hours unpiloted.

In Kuala Lumpur officials are comparing the mystery over MH370 to the disappearance of an Air France airliner in the Atlantic in 2009. That plane's recording devices were found in 3,900 metres of water after a two-year search.

But whereas investigators knew roughly where the Air France plane had hit the Atlantic on a stormy night, search crews know much less about where MH370 ended up, including whether or where it ran out of fuel.

The search area for the Air Fance plane was narrowed to a 60-kilometre radius. Experts say currents in the rough seas of the Indian Ocean could have taken debris hundreds of kilometres since March 8.

"This is going to be a long-haul effort. I think we need to trench down on this," Mr Hishammuddin said.

"Our focus has always been to narrow down the search corridors.''

Mr Hishammuddin, who is also defence minister, said he prays the plane will be found in 30 days before the battery life of the radar beacons die.

"We are discussing what we would need to carry on the search after that point," he said.

"In the Air France search it took two years to find the [black box] so it is possible."

The search operation will open the Australian defence force and China's military to unprecedented real operation interaction as Beijing deploys five ships, three ship-borne helicopters and three Chinese aircraft to the Indian Ocean search area.

Japan is sending two P-3 Orion search aircraft to Perth to join the search while a British warship HMS Echo is also heading to the vast region. 

Sydney Morning Herald