CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The deep sea hunt for a missing Malaysian airliner has shifted to a remote part of the Indian Ocean where a British pilot has calculated that the Boeing 777 made a controlled ditching last year with 239 people aboard, officials said Monday.
The patch of deep ocean southwest of Australia that Capt. Simon Hardy has determined is the most likely resting place of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 will be searched through December, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is coordinating the search on Malaysia’s behalf, said in a statement.
But Australian authorities are not being guided by the experienced Boeing 777 pilot’s analysis. Martin Dolan, the bureau’s chief commissioner, said the search was moving farther south within a 120,000-square-kilometer (46,000-square-mile) priority area because the southern hemisphere spring had made the extreme conditions in the southern ocean calmer.
“We’re aware that we’re in the area that Capt. Hardy specifies, but we’re in that area because it was next in our search sequence, and we’ve been moving progressively south because the weather is improving,” Dolan said.
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Hardy’s theory of where Flight 370 went after it inexplicably flew far off course during a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing on March 8, 2014, has been widely published in recent months. He used mathematical analysis and a flight simulator to plot the course he believed the airliner took when it vanished in one of aviation’s most baffling mysteries.
“I am fairly confident that the wreckage will be found within the next four to eight weeks,” Hardy told The Australian newspaper.
Experts directing the search have discussed Hardy’s theory with him. Hardy could not be immediately contacted for comment on Monday.
“There are many theories from members of the public and various independent experts and all are considered,” the bureau said in its statement, which described Hardy’s analysis as credible.
But searchers do not accept a key aspect of Hardy’s conclusion: that whoever was flying the plane made a controlled landing at sea, which allowed it to sink largely intact.
The only confirmed wreckage of Flight 370 to be recovered was a wing flap found on a remote Indian Ocean island in July.
Dolan said authorities still believe that the final satellite transmission from one of the jet’s engines indicated that it was out of fuel, meaning the plane would have plummeted into the ocean out of control and disintegrated.
Australia and Malaysia have split the cost of the search of the vast expanse of seabed that began in October last year based on satellite analysis of the jet’s flight for more than six hours after it went off course. The search, taking place more than 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) off the Australian coast, has so far covered 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles).
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged an additional $14.5 million over the weekend to fund the continuing search. China lost 153 citizens in the disaster.