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Search for Missing Malaysian Airlines Jet Shifts Underwater

Most of the ships and aircraft that have been scouring the southern Indian Ocean for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 for a month and a half are being cut loose from the search, Australian authorities said Wednesday.

The Joint Agency Coordination Center — the interagency organization that Australia set up to shepherd the search for the plane, which went missing March 8 — reiterated in a brief statement that search operations are "commencing a new phase and will transition over the coming weeks to an intensified undersea search."

Image: The Bluefin-21 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is craned over the side of the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield in the southern Indian Ocean during the continuing search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370
The U.S. Navy's Bluefin-21 robot sub will have sole responsibility for searching for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, Australian authorities say. Australian Defence via Reuters - file

Bluefin-21, the U.S. Navy's robot submarine that has carried most of the recent load of the search for the plane and the 239 people in board, will continue to search areas adjacent to the initial 195-square-mile region it has been searching since underwater "pings" that might be linked to the aircraft's black box were detected this month, the agency said.

To support that effort, the Australian navy ship Ocean Shield will remain on duty, while an Australian air force AP-3C Orion jet will be on standby.

But otherwise, all other ships and aircraft that have been sent to help by several nations "will now transition to their respective national tasking in the coming days," the agency said.

It could take as long as eight months for Bluefin-21 to cover the full search area of about 20,000 square miles, said the joint operations center — which said it would provide further information "if, and when, it becomes available."

— M. Alex Johnson