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CANBERRA, Australia -- The hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet will likely soon deploy more powerful sonar equipment like the technology used to find the Titanic, an official said Wednesday.
Australian Defense Minister David Johnston said authorities were consulting with Malaysia, China and the United States on the next phase of the search for the plane that went missing March 8, which is 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 12,500 feet under the Atlantic Ocean in 1985.
Such equipment can delve deeper as the current search of the most likely crash site in the southern Indian Ocean has failed to yield any clues.
"The next phase, I think, is that we step up with potentially a more powerful, more capable side-scan sonar to do deeper water," Johnston told The Associated Press.
The search coordination center said Wednesday a robotic submarine, the U.S. Navy's Bluefin-21, had so far covered more than 80 percent of the 120-square-mile seabed search zone off the Australian west coast, creating a three-dimensional sonar map of the ocean floor. Nothing of interest had been found.
The 2.8-mile deep search area is a circle 12 miles wide around an area where sonar equipment picked up a signal on April 8 consistent with a plane's black boxes. The black box beacons' batteries would by now be dead.
While the Bluefin had less than one-fifth of the seabed search area to complete, Johnston estimated that task would take another two weeks. "We want to be very thorough," he said.
The focus of next phase of the seafloor search whether it will include the initial search area would be decided on by continuing analysis of information including flight data and sound detections of suspected beacons, he said.
"The whole thing is extraordinarily complex in one of other most isolated parts of the ocean on the planet in very deep water," he added.