Malaysia MH370: search for plane hampered by cyclone

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Several planes were forced to cancel their search efforts because of a cyclone over the Indian Ocean

A tropical cyclone halted the aerial search for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane on Tuesday, officials said.

Up to 10 military planes had been due to scour the surface of the Indian Ocean for evidence of flight MH370.

But officials in Australia said Tropical Cyclone Jack had made the prospect of an air search "potentially hazardous".

The plane was carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it disappeared in March.

"Planned air search activities have been suspended for today due to poor weather conditions in the search area as a result of Tropical Cyclone Jack," the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said.

"It has been determined that the current weather conditions are resulting in heavy seas and poor visibility, and would make any air search activities ineffective and potentially hazardous."

JACC said the 10 ships also involved in the search, about 1,600 kms (990 miles) north-west of the Australian city of Perth, would continue their work.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Bluefin submarine has so far covered 80% of the target area

The setback occurred as the Bluefin submarine, searching an area where underwater signals were detected earlier this month, was on the verge of completing its initial operation.

The Bluefin-21, operated by the US Navy off the Australian vessel Ocean Shield, is an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that can identify objects by creating a sonar map of the sea floor.

So far the submarine has completed nine missions, JACC says. Over the past week, it has scanned 80% of the circular search area with a 10km (six miles) radius with "no contacts of interest".

The centre said the submarine search would continue and discussions were taking place on its future focus. The submersible drone was seen by experts as the best chance of finding the plane's flight recorders

The Bluefin is operating at a depth of more than 4,000m (13,000 feet) but search teams may have to turn to other types of underwater vehicle capable of going deeper if it fails to find anything.

The daily operation involving some two dozen nations is already shaping up to be the most expensive in aviation history.

Authorities still do not know why the plane flew so far off course and finding the plane's flight recorders is seen as key to understanding what happened.

Using satellite data, officials have concluded that MH370 ended its journey in the southern Indian Ocean west of the Australian city of Perth.