CANBERRA (AP) ― Australian officials said Thursday that after examining detailed photographs of unidentified material that washed ashore in the southwestern part of the country they are satisfied it is not a clue in the search for the missing Malaysian plane.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has advised search coordinators that the material, which washed ashore 10 kilometers east of Augusta in Western Australia, is not from missing Flight 370, according to a statement from the Joint Agency Coordination Center.
Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the safety bureau, said Wednesday that an initial analysis of the material ― which appeared to be sheet metal with rivets ― suggested it was not from the plane.
“We do not consider this likely to be of use to our search for MH370,” he said.
Augusta is near Australia’s southwestern tip, about 310 kilometers from Perth, where the search has been headquartered.
The search coordination center also said Thursday a robotic submarine, the U.S. Navy’s Bluefin 21, had scanned more than 90 percent of the 310-square-kilometer seabed search zone off the Australian west coast, creating a three-dimensional sonar map of the ocean floor, but had found nothing of interest.
The 4.5-kilometer-deep search area is a circle 20 kilometers wide around an area where sonar equipment picked up a signal on April 8 consistent with a plane’s black boxes. But the batteries powering those signals are now believed dead.
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday that failure to find any clue in the most likely crash site of the lost jet would not spell the end of the search, as officials plan soon to bring in more powerful sonar equipment that can delve deeper beneath the Indian Ocean.
Defense Minister David Johnston said Australia was consulting with Malaysia, China and the U.S. on the next phase of the search for the plane, which disappeared March 8. Details on the next phase are likely to be announced next week.
Johnston said more powerful towed side-scan commercial sonar equipment would probably be deployed, similar to the remote-controlled subs that found RMS Titanic 3,800 meters under the Atlantic Ocean in 1985 and the Australian World War II wreck HMAS Sydney in the Indian Ocean off the Australian coast, north of the current search area, in 2008.
While the Bluefin had less than one-fifth of the seabed search area to complete, Johnston estimated that task would take another two weeks.
Abbott said the airliner’s probable impact zone was 700 kilometers long and 80 kilometers wide. A new search strategy would be adopted if nothing is found in the current seabed search zone.
“If at the end of that period we find nothing, we are not going to abandon the search, we may well rethink the search, but we will not rest until we have done everything we can to solve this mystery,” Abbott told reporters.
The focus of the next search phase will be decided by continuing analysis of information including flight data and sound detections of the suspected beacons, Johnston said, adding that the seabed in the vicinity of the search was up to 7 kilometers deep.
The search center said Thursday an air search involving up to 11 planes was planned to examine an area of nearly 50,000 square kilometers centered about 1,600 kilometers northwest of Perth. The center said it would first assess weather conditions, which have hampered aerial searches over the past two days. The center said 11 ships would also join the search.
Radar and satellite data show the jet veered far off course on March 8 for unknown reasons during its flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. An analysis indicates it would have run out of fuel in the remote section of ocean where the search has been focused. Not one piece of confirmed debris has been found since the massive multinational hunt began.