The hunt for missing Flight MH370 has now covered more than 40 percent of the ocean floor search zone but weather conditions are so bad that one of the ships has been damaged by giant waves, officials said Wednesday.
More than 19,000 square miles of the southern Indian Ocean have been covered by specialist vessels, but the search of the remaining zone is being hampered by bad weather, the Australia Transportation Safety Bureau said in an operational update.
It released pictures and video from the ocean site showing giant waves crashing over the ships' decks.
One of the vessels, GO Phoenix, has returned to Australia for repairs after its deep-tow system was damaged in the rough weather.
“A significant amount of welding is required to rectify the damaged frame,” the ATSB update said. The ship will set sail again when its bottled oxygen and acetylene supplies — needed for welding equipment — have been replenished. Repairs will be completed en route.
The total search zone covers 46,000 square miles — an area about the size of Pennsylvania.
The jetliner disappeared on March 8 last year en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. A joint investigation by Australia and Malaysia, helped by other international experts, has so far concluded from satellite data that the jet probably changed course and headed south for several hours before running out of fuel.
"Over coming weeks, search operations will be focused in the south to take advantage of the last of the better weather in that area prior to the expected onset of continuous poor weather during winter,” the ATSB added.
“The weather is forecast to be moderate over the next few days, but will worsen on the weekend. Search operations will continue through the winter months, but pauses are anticipated.”