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By The Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia — Experts hunting for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 are attempting to define a new search area by studying where the first piece of recovered wreckage most likely drifted from after the crash.

Officials are planning the next phase of the deep-sea sonar search for the Boeing 777 in case the current two-year search in the Indian Ocean turns up nothing, said Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief commissioner Greg Hood.

However, a new search would require a new funding commitment, with Malaysia, Australia and China agreeing in July that the $160 million search would be suspended once the current area southwest of Australia is exhausted — unless new evidence emerges that would pinpoint a specific location.

Related: MH370 Search Ship Ends Mission Without Success

"If it is not in the area which we defined, it's going to be somewhere else in the near vicinity," Hood said in an interview this week.

French police officers with the flaperon in Saint-Andre, Reunion Island.Lucas Marie / AP

Further analysis of the wing fragment known as a flaperon found on Reunion Island off the African coast in July last year — 15 months after the plane went missing — will hopefully help narrow a possible next search area outside the current boundary.

Six replicas of the flaperon will be sent to Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization's oceanography department in the island state of Tasmania where scientists will determine whether it is the wind or the currents that affect how they drift, Hood said. This will enable more accurate drift modeling than is currently available.

If more money becomes available, the Australian bureau plans to fit the flaperons with satellite beacons and set them adrift at different points in the southern Indian Ocean around March 8 next year — the third anniversary of the disaster — and track their movements.

Related: Search for MH370 to Be Suspended — Possibly Forever

Less than 4,000 square miles of seabed, which is outside the original 23,000-square-mile high-priority search zone, remain to be searched.