US Official Says Malaysia Plane Search Could Take Years; US Black Box Detector Joins Efforts

Three weeks after the mid-air disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, an Australian navy warship with a U.S. black box locator Sunday joined the search in the Indian Ocean. However, a U.S. Naval Officer says the search could take years.

(Photo: REUTERS/KIM KYUNG-HOON)Family members of passengers onboard Malaysia Airlines MH370 cry as they shout slogans during the protest in front of the Malaysian embassy.

The search involved 10 ships and 10 aircraft in the Indian Ocean far off the coast of the western Australian city of Perth on Sunday, the day the Australian defense force ship, Ocean Shield, and its flight recorder detector started for the location where the Boeing 777 is presumed to have crashed.

Many objects have been spotted since Friday, when Australian authorities moved the search about 700 miles after a new analysis suggested that the plane flew faster and therefore burned fuel at a quicker rate than previously estimated. However, investigators have not been able to confirm if any of the objects sighted were actually from that flight.

U.S. Navy Captain Mark Matthews, who is in charge of the U.S. Towed Pinger Locator, believes the lack of knowledge about where the flight went down is a major hurdle.

"Right now the search area is basically the size of the Indian Ocean, which would take an untenable amount of time to search," Matthews told journalists at Stirling Naval Base near Perth. "If you compare this to Air France flight 447, we had much better positional information of where that aircraft went into the water."

The Air France plane Matthews referred to crashed in 2009 near Brazil, and in that case it took more than two years for investigators to retrieve the black box.

Numerous nations are involved in the search for the plane in an area that is of high strategic importance to many of these countries. Therefore, regional competition for influence and unwillingness to share all information have hampered the efforts.

Australia, which is coordinating the search, has recently formulated rules and guidelines for all parties involved. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced Sunday that Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston will lead a new Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) based in Perth.

Meanwhile, the chief of the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center, He Jianzhong, told Chinese media that Chinese vessels will expand their search due to the failure of the international effort to find objects linked to the plane.

While efforts are currently focused on finding the plane in the Indian Ocean, investigators have not ruled out terrorism or a hijacking as the cause.

MH370 took off at 12:40 am on March 8 from Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing, with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board, including the captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and first officer, Fariq Abdul Hamid. The flight lost contact with air traffic controllers 120 nautical miles off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu.

The plane was carrying people from 14 countries and territories: 152 from China; 38 from Malaysia; seven from Indonesia; six from Australia; five from India; three each from France and the United States; two each from New Zealand, Ukraine and Canada; and one each from Russia, Italy, Taiwan, Netherlands and Austria, according to Malaysian Airlines.

Those on board included 50-year-old Philip Wood, an IBM executive from North Texas who moved to East Asia. The two other Americans on board have been identified as Nicole Meng, 4, and Yan Zhang, 2.