| SYDNEY, June 10
SYDNEY, June 10 Australia on Tuesday signed a
contract with a private company to map the sea floor around
where missing Malaysia Airlines MASM.KL Flight MH370 is believed
to have crashed, a crucial step towards continuing an underwater
search later this year.
Months of searches have failed to turn up any trace of the
missing Boeing 777, which disappeared on March 8 carrying
239 passengers and crew shortly after taking off from Kuala
Lumpur bound for Beijing.
Investigators say what little evidence they have to work
with suggests the aeroplane was deliberately diverted thousands
of kilometres from its scheduled route before eventually
crashing into the Indian Ocean.
The next phase of the search, which will be handed over from
the military to the private sector, is expected to start in
August and take up to a year, covering some 60,000 sq km (23,000
square miles) of ocean at a cost of A$60 million ($56.16
million) or more.
The search is already the most expensive in aviation
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau chose a subsidiary of
Dutch multinational Fugro to perform the detailed
underwater mapping necessary before that phase can begin.
"The bathymetric survey will provide a map of the underwater
search zone, charting the contours, depths and composition of
the sea floor in water depths up to 6,000 metres (3.7 miles),"
Australia's Joint Agency Coordinating Centre, which has been
leading the multinational search, said in a statement.
"The survey will provide crucial information to help plan
the deep water search for MH370 which is scheduled to commence
The search was narrowed in April after a series of acoustic
pings thought to be from the plane's black box recorders were
heard near where analysis of satellite data put its last
location, some 1,600 km (1,000 miles) off the northwest coast of
But officials now say that wreckage from the aircraft was
not in the area they had identified and that the search will be
(Editing by Robert Birsel)