* Search of 850 sq km area around pings completed, no
* CNN quotes U.S. Navy official as saying pings likely came
from search vessels
* No sign of MH370, missing since March 8 with 239 people
* Chinese premier urges Malaysia to come up with new search
(Adds Chinese premier urging new search plan)
By Lincoln Feast
SYDNEY, May 29 The search for a missing Malaysia
Airlines jetliner suffered a further setback on
Thursday after Australian officials said wreckage from the
aircraft was not on the seabed in the area they had identified.
Flight MH370, carrying 239 passengers and crew, disappeared
from radar screens on March 8 shortly after taking off from
Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing.
Investigators say what little evidence they have to work
with, including the loss of communications, suggests the Boeing
777 was deliberately diverted thousands of kilometres
from its scheduled route.
The search was narrowed last month 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 Australia.
"The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has advised
that the search in the vicinity of the acoustic detections can
now be considered complete and, in its professional judgment,
the area can now be discounted as the final resting place of
MH370," the agency in charge of the search said in a statement.
ATSB chief Martin Dolan told Reuters he expected the team to
take two to three weeks to reassess and re-analyze the data,
although he was "confident" that the final resting place of the
aircraft was the Indian Ocean.
"We don't know what those pings were," Dolan said over the
phone. "We are still analyzing those signals to understand them
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang urged Malaysian Prime Minister
Najib Razak on Thursday to come up with a new search plan.
"We hope the Malaysian side can play a leading and
coordinating role and quickly put in a place a new search plan
to find where the plane came down and seriously develop the
investigation," Li said during Najib's six-day visit to China,
according to the official Xinhua news agency.
BREAKTHROUGH NO MORE
The discovery of the pings on April 5 and 8 was hailed as a
significant breakthrough, with Australian Prime Minister Tony
Abbott expressing confidence that searchers knew where the plane
wreckage was within a few kilometres.
However, a thorough scan of the 850 sq km area around the
pings with an unmanned submarine failed to find any sign of
wreckage. No debris linked to the plane has been picked up
despite the most extensive and expensive search effort in
"We concentrated the search in that area because the pings
were the best information available at the time," Australian
Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, who is also the transport
minister, told the Australian parliament.
"We are still very confident that the resting place of the
aircraft is in the southern (Indian) Ocean, and along the
seventh ping line," he added, refering to an arc identified by
analysis of satellite communications data from UK company
Earlier on Thursday, CNN quoted Michael Dean, the U.S.
Navy's deputy director of ocean engineering, and said
authorities now almost universally believe the pings did not
come from the plane's onboard data or cockpit voice recorders.
"Our best theory at this point is that (the pings were)
likely some sound produced by the ship ... or within the
electronics of the Towed Pinger Locator," Dean told CNN.
The search zone had already been extended to a 60,000 sq km
zone that is being surveyed by a Chinese vessel. It will then be
searched by a commercial operator in a mission that is expected
to start in August and take up to a year, at a cost of A$60
million ($55 million) or more.
Malaysia's government and Inmarsat released data
this week used to determine the path of MH370, which families of
the missing passengers hope could help verify the plane's last
location by opening up the data to analysis by a wider range of
Australian authorities said the data supported the theory
that the plane crashed after running out of fuel.
Along with surface searches, examination of satellite data
and the undersea sonar searches, authorities have asked the
United Nations' Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
Organisation (CTBTO) to check its system of hydrophones,
designed to pick up possible nuclear tests, for any clues as to
where the aircraft may have crashed.
"Both the CTBTO and institutions from our 183 Member States
... have analyzed all relevant International Monitoring System
data - infrasound, seismic and hydroacoustic - without finding
any signal that could point to the fate of MH370," a spokesman
from CTBTO said in an emailed response.
($1 = 1.0848 Australian Dollars)
(Additional reporting by Swati Pandey in SYDNEY and Megha
Rajagopalan and Li Hui in BEIJING; Editing by Raju
Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)