The underwater search for the crucial flight recorders of the crashed Malaysian jet could be completed within a week, Australian officials said as a robotic mini-submarine launched its eighth mission today with still no sign of wreckage or black box of the plane.
A US navy deep-sea autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), Bluefin-21, is scouring a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean floor for signs of the Flight MH370, which disappeared from radars on 8 March with 239 people, including five Indians on board.
On the 44th day of the search operations, the underwater hunt was narrowed to a circular area with a radius of 10km around the location from which one of four pings believed to have come from the recorders was detected on April 8, officials said.
The huge international search-and-rescue effort for any physical evidence of the plane's wreckage, now in its seventh week, had so far proved fruitless.
"Provided the weather is favourable for launch and recovery of the AUV and we have a good run with the serviceability of the AUV, we should complete the search of the focused underwater area in five to seven days," the Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre (JACC) said.
Previous reports had suggested the underwater search could take as long as several months.
"Early this morning, Bluefin-21 AUV completed mission seven in the underwater search area. Bluefin-21 has searched approximately 50 per cent of the focused underwater search area to date," the Perth-based JAAC said in a statement.
"No contacts of interest have been found to date," said the statement.
Officials did not indicate whether they were confident this search area would yield new information about the flight, nor did they say what steps they would take if nothing was found.
Meanwhile in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian official said the families of the passengers and crew of flight will receive financial assistance from Malaysia Airlines to ease their burdens.
Deputy Foreign Minister Hamzah Zainuddin, who heads the sub-committee focusing on the next-of-kin, said that the process to identify those who would receive the assistance started two weeks ago.
The assistance would come solely from Malaysia Airlines, with the government only stepping in to bear some of the costs if there is a need for it.
After almost two weeks without a signal, and long past the flight recorder battery's 30-day life expectancy, authorities were increasingly reliant on the USD 4 million Bluefin-21 drone.