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Australia: Search For Missing Airliner To Enter 'New Phase'

Australia's prime minister says the chance of finding any floating debris from MH370 is "highly unlikely" and that the search for the missing Malaysian Airliner will need to shift away from visual searches and focus instead on scouring the seafloor.

Tony Abbott said that at this point, weeks after the plane disappeared on March 8 with 239 people aboard, it's possible nothing will ever be found from the Boeing 777 that is thought to have gone down in the southern Indian Ocean west of Australia.

"We will do everything we humanly can, everything we reasonably can, to solve this mystery," he told reporters in Canberra.

"We are still baffled and disappointed that we haven't been able to find undersea wreckage based on those detections," he said.

"We are moving from the current phase to a phase which is focused on searching the ocean floor over a much larger area," Abbott said.

He said that although the U.S. Navy's robotic search of the area has gone on for weeks and has yet to turn up anything, officials are hoping to bring in more equipment to search the seafloor for possible debris.

Abbott says searches of the plane's entire probable impact zone, an area 430 miles long and 50 miles wide, would begin.

But Angus Houston, the head of the search effort, says that will be a monumental task.

"If everything goes perfectly, I would say we'll be doing well if we do it in eight months," Houston was quoted by The Associated Press as saying. Houston said weather and technical obstacles could further prolong such a search.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.