Australian scientists are now more confident than ever that they have worked out where the wreckage of missing flight MH370 is located.
- New research indicates wreckage is north of the actual search zone
- If evidence deemed 'credible' the search may resume
- A genuine used Boeing 777 flaperon was modified for analysis
In a report prepared for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), CSIRO scientists cite new research further indicating the aircraft is north of the actual search zone, in an area twice the size of greater Sydney (25,000km2).
This latest research confirms their earlier drift analysis made in a report released in November.
Two-hundred-and-thirty-nine passengers and crew were on board the flight travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014 when it disappeared from aviation radars.
The search for the Boeing 777 was suspended in January 2017.
Ministers from Malaysia, Australia and China agreed that there needed to be "credible new evidence" if the operation was to continue.
Federal Transport Minister Darren Chester welcomed the report but denied it provided new evidence about the specific location of MH370.
"The CSIRO report has been provided to Malaysia for consideration in its ongoing investigation into the disappearance of MH370," he said.
"Malaysia is the lead investigator and any future requests in relation to searching for MH370 would be considered by Australia, at that time."
The ABC understands there were no plans to extend the search at this stage despite the CSIRO's latest findings.
"Malaysia as the lead investigator will work closely with the Australian and Chinese governments in deciding any future search efforts," an ATSB spokesman told the ABC.
About 120,000 square kilometres of the ocean bed have been searched to no avail, despite the more than $180 million cost of the operation.
Flaperon analysis boosts theory
Since the CSIRO's November report, the scientists conducted further detailed analysis based on the first tangible evidence of the crash — a part of the wing known as a flaperon — which washed up at La Reunion Island in 2015.
Instead of using a replica flaperon as they did for their earlier drift analysis report, the scientists obtained and modified a genuine used Boeing 777 part so that it appeared identically damaged to the debris that washed up on the island.
"Testing an actual flaperon has added an extra level of assurance to the findings from our earlier drift modelling work," CSIRO's Dr David Griffin said.
"We cannot be absolutely certain, but that is where all the evidence we have points us, and this new work leaves us more confident in our findings.
"The 'penny drop moment' was realising that there was only one place along the seventh arc that explained that no debris arrived in Australia.
"To come up with an estimate which is plus or minus 100 kilometres, that's like five or 10 times more accurate than we thought we'd be able to do."
They measured how fast it drifted downwind, what angle it was at in the wind and the waves, and say their proposed crash area was "very consistent with the July 2015 arrival time on [La Reunion Island]".
In their new report, The search for MH370 and Ocean Surface Drift —Part II, the CSIRO team confirmed their new findings correspond to their previous predictions for the plane's location.
"The only thing that our recent work changes is our confidence in the accuracy of the estimated location, which is within the new search area identified ... near 35 degrees south."
It is a region known as the Seventh Arc, which was searched incompletely during 2014-15 before efforts were redirected further south.
Earlier this year, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau's Commissioner Greg Hood said it was "highly likely" to be in the 25,000km2 area.
At the time, the Malaysian Transport Minister YB Dato' Sri Liow Tiong Lai acknowledged Mr Hood's view but was resolute.
"We need more credible evidence before we move to the next search area," he said.
Australian Transport Minister Darren Chester also stood by the decision to stop the underwater search.
"I recognise that they're saying the next most likely place to look would be another 25,000km2 to the north of the existing search area, but no-one's actually saying to me as the Minister that they definitely know the location of MH370," he said at the time.