The 300-square-mile search area close to where sonic ‘pings’ were heard in April is not the “final resting place of MH370,” the agency leading the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet said Thursday.
The area was being scoured by U.S. Navy robo-sub Bluefin-21 but there have been no signs of wreckage of the Boeing 777 - another setback in the hunt for the doomed plane.
The search area - some 1,000 miles off the northwest coast of Australia - is where pings originally thought to be from the black boxes of the missing jet were heard in early April by a towed pinger locater.
"The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has advised that the search in the vicinity of the acoustic detections can now be considered complete and, in its professional judgment, the area can now be discounted as the final resting place of MH370," the agency in charge of the search said in a statement.
The ocean floor underneath a wider search zone of 23,000 square miles is now being mapped by a Chinese vessel. It will then be searched by a commercial operator in a mission that is expected to start in August and take up to a year, at a cost of $55 million or more.
Michael Dean, the Navy's deputy director of ocean engineering, was reported saying most countries involved in the search for the jet now agree the sounds picked up by the Navy's Towed Pinger Locator last month in the southern Indian Ocean were emitted by a man-made source unrelated to MH370.
But the Navy then appeared to throw cold water on those remarks.
"Mike Dean's comments today were speculative and premature, as we continue to work with our partners to more thoroughly understand the data acquired by the Towed Pinger Locator," a Navy spokesman said in a statement. "As such, we would defer to the Australians, as the lead in the search effort, to make additional information known at the appropriate time."