WASHINGTON Australia will decide in a few days whether to alter or scale back the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but will consult all countries involved on any changes, Australia's ambassador to the United States said on Sunday.
Kim Beazley told CNN the search countries would "regroup and reconsider" if nothing is found in a section of the Indian Ocean floor now being scanned by a U.S. Navy underwater drone.
This includes adjustments to the air and sea surface search efforts and the possibility of bringing in private contractors to replace some military assets, he said.
"Obviously that's one of the things you're going to consider. You may well also consider bringing in other underwater search equipment," Beazley said on the "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" program.
"All these sorts of things will be on the table if nothing is found in the next few days," he added.
The search coordinators also may reassess the mathematical calculations used in trying to pinpoint the source of "ping" signals believed to be from the missing plane's flight recorders, as well as electronic signals the plane sent to a communications satellite, Beazley said.
The search for the missing Boeing 777-200ER and its 239 passengers and crew entered its 44th day on Sunday, focused on sonar scans taken by the Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). The remote-controlled submarine is scouring a 6.2-mile circle of sea floor some 1,200 miles northwest of Perth.
The submarine is now in its eighth deep sea mission with no sign of wreckage so far, authorities in Australia said on Sunday. The drone has searched about half its targeted area, and authorities said the operation would be completed within a week.
Beazley, former deputy prime minister of Australia, said any changes to the search would be decided by Australia in consultation with Malaysia, China, the United States and other countries involved.
"This is an area where we're all a bit humbled. None of us know exactly what ought to be done, so you're going to be in a mode of constant consultation," he said.
On Sunday, up to 11 military aircraft and 12 ships will help with the search, covering a total of roughly 48,507 square km (18,729 sq miles) across two areas, the Perth-based Joint Agency Coordination Centre said in a statement.
Weeks of daily sorties have failed to turn up any trace of the plane, even after narrowing the search to an arc in the southern Indian Ocean, making this the most expensive such operation in aviation history.
The Malaysian government has said the search is at a "very critical juncture" and asked for prayers for its success. Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has also said the government may consider using more AUVs in the search.
Hopes for further black box signals are fast diminishing, since the batteries on the devices are now two weeks past their 30-day expected life span, search officials have said.
Beazley said Australia was committed to "keep going" on the search, even if methods are altered.
Each country would likely continue covering the costs of supporting its own planes, ships, personnel and equipment.
"The question would be who would pay for private contractors if more private contractors were brought in. That would be a decision taken by the Australian government in an environment of great generosity," Beazley said. "We have responsibility for this. There is an assumption on the Australian part about bearing the burden."
(Additional reporting by Byron Kaye in Perth and Matt Siegel in Sydney; Editing by Bernard Orr)