MH370 search team to continue Indian Ocean search, rejects Maldives as possible crash site

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA (BNO NEWS) -- The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 will continue to focus on the southern Indian Ocean, even if the current operation ends without any trace of the plane, the Australian government said on Wednesday, rejecting a number of sites proposed by conspiracy theorists.

In a weekly update, the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) struck down recent media reports that cited witnesses as saying that they had observed a large, low-flying aircraft near the Maldives on the morning of March 8, 2014. The witnesses also claimed that the aircraft had red and blue markings, which is similar to the livery of Malaysia Airlines.

"Based on a careful analysis of all available evidence, search efforts remain focused on an area in the southern Indian Ocean defined by the ATSB (Australian Transport Safety Bureau)," the JACC said in its update. It added, however, that the ATSB's Search Strategy Working Group is continuing its analysis of all available information, which may result in "refinements" to the search area.

Citing analysis of data from satellite communication system messages and two unanswered satellite phone calls made to the aircraft, as well as an analysis of aircraft performance, the JACC said the aircraft "cannot be" in Kazakhstan, Diego Garcia or the Maldives. "Theories suggesting the aircraft is located to the north or significantly to the west of Sumatra are not supported by known facts or careful analysis," it explained.

Diego Garcia has been the focus of many conspiracy theorists, some of whom believe that Flight MH370 was shot down by the U.S. military, which operates a base in the British territory. Other conspiracy theories have claimed that the aircraft was hijacked and forced to land in Kazakhstan, but none of these theories have been supported by evidence that has been made public.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a Boeing 777 with 239 people on board, was operating a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it disappeared from civilian radar in the early morning of March 8, 2014. It was flying above the South China Sea when it was last detected by air traffic controllers, but investigators believe the aircraft continued to fly for nearly seven more hours before crashing in the southern Indian Ocean west of Perth.

The governments of Malaysia, Australia and China announced last week that, should the aircraft not be found in the current search area, they will extend the search area by an additional 60,000 square kilometers, bringing the total search area to 120,000 square kilometers and thereby covering the entire highest probability area as identified by experts.

A deep-sea search for the plane has so far covered more than 60 percent of the current search area and is expected to be completed towards the end of next month. The additional search area will take up to a year to search, in part because of adverse weather conditions in the upcoming winter months.

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