Search for Malaysian airliner, though beefed up, still yields little

Australia's prime minister says there will be no time limit on the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane. Twenty aircraft and ships are scouring the seas off the Australian south-west coast on Monday. (Reuters)

The largest contingent yet of search planes and ships hunting for a missing Malaysian airliner ended work Monday without success.

Ten ships and 10 planes from seven countries scoured a section of the Indian Ocean larger than California during the day, hoping to find debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished March 8 with 239 people on board.

An Australian navy support vessel left for the search area on Monday with equipment that will allow the crew to begin listening for “pings” from the plane’s black box, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). It is expected to take “several days” to arrive and begin hunting for the device, a critical piece of equipment that contains audio recordings from the cockpit and flight data, AMSA said late Monday.

Locating the black box is perhaps the best chance that investigators have of deciphering exactly where the airliner went down and what happened to it.

But time is running out. The box emits signals for about 30 days, which means that by the time the ship arrives in the search area to begin looking for it, the battery may have less than a week left before it goes silent.

The international effort to locate Flight 370

The hunt was due to continue Tuesday, although the weather in the search area was expected to be poor, with visibility low, according to the Australian-led team.

“We will never give up until we find out what happened to MH370,” Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Monday.

Hishammuddin announced that a new joint agency will be formed at Royal Australian Air Force Base Pearce north of Perth to coordinate the hunt for the plane.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was “not putting a time limit” on the search.

On Friday, the operation effectively restarted in a completely different section of the southern Indian Ocean than where it had been focused. The search was moved 680 miles northeast after new analysis by investigators indicated that the aircraft had been traveling faster than previously thought and, therefore, would have run out of fuel much sooner.

[READ: Flight 370, a mysterious “one-off,” spurs calls to modernize tracking technology.]

Meanwhile, 29 Chinese who had family members on the flight arrived Sunday in Kuala Lumpur seeking answers from the Malaysian government about what happened to their loved ones. Two-thirds of the 227 passengers aboard the flight were Chinese, and their relatives have expressed deep frustration with Malaysian authorities since the plane disappeared.

Hishammuddin said Monday that the families would soon be able to meet with technical experts who would share more information about the search with them.

Some of the Chinese families, though, are slowly trying to accept that their loved ones may never come home.

“We have to start a new life,” said Zhang, a 35-year-old man from Tianjin who gave only his surname and whose cousin was on the plane. “Life goes on.”

Xu Jing in Beijing contributed to this report.

Jia Lynn Yang is a staff writer at The Washington Post who covers policy and business. Before joining the Post, she worked at Fortune magazine.
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