Missing flight MH370: Search 'could take a year'

Malaysian Acting Transport Minister Hishamuddin Hussein (C), Chief Coordinator of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston (Ret'd) and Mr Jean-Paul Troadec, President of the French Aviation Accident Investigation Bureau hold a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on 2 May 2014 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Angus Houston (4th from L) said an "effective search" would find the plane,

The official leading the hunt for the missing Malaysian airliner MH370 says a full search of the suspected crash area could take up to a year.

Speaking in Malaysia, Angus Houston said he was confident an "effective search" would find the plane.

Officials from Australia, China and Malaysia will meet in Canberra next week to discuss the ongoing search.

On Thursday a report revealed a four-hour gap between MH370's disappearance and the start of a search operation.

The preliminary report, from Malaysia's transport ministry, also revealed that air traffic controllers did not realise the plane was missing until 17 minutes after it disappeared off radar.

The plane, carrying 239 people, disappeared over the South China Sea as it flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

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Media captionNurlaila Binti Ngah, wife of chief steward Wan Swaid Wan Ismail: "We just wanted our husbands back"

Officials believe it ended its journey in seas west of the Australian city of Perth, thousands of kilometres off course, but do not yet know why. An intensive multinational search has so far turned up no sign of the plane.

Earlier this week, Australia announced that the operation was entering a new phase, after an initial search of the area where acoustic signals thought to be from "black box" flight recorders were heard found nothing.

'Totally committed'

Next week's meeting in Australia will help determine what happens next.

"That's a very important meeting because it will formalise the way ahead to ensure that this search continues with urgency and doesn't stop at any stage," said Mr Houston, a retired Air Chief Marshal.

The aerial search for floating wreckage has been called off. The search of the sea floor will be expanded in the area where officials believe - based on satellite data - that the plane crashed.

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Image caption The Bluefin-21 robotic submersible is continuing to scour the sea floor for wreckage

"The search will take probably in the order of eight months, maybe eight to 12 months if we have bad weather or other issues," Mr Huston said.

"But we're totally committed to find MH370 and I'm confident that with an effective search we will eventually find the aircraft."

Late on Thursday, Malaysian officials released their preliminary report on the missing airliner.

According to the draft, Vietnamese air traffic controllers contacted their counterparts in Kuala Lumpur at 01:38 to say MH370 was missing, 17 minutes after it disappeared off radar.

The official search-and-rescue operation was launched four hours later, at 05:30.

The report also recommended the introduction of real-time tracking of commercial air transport, saying there had now been two recent occasions when large planes had gone missing with their last position unclear - MH370 and Air France Flight 447 in 2009.

"This uncertainty resulted in significant difficulty in locating the aircraft in a timely manner," the report noted.

There is no requirement from the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO), the UN body that oversees global aviation, for real-time tracking.

Malaysia Airlines, meanwhile, has asked relatives of passengers to leave the hotel accommodation it has been providing and go home.

The airline said it was "deeply sympathetic to the continuing unimaginable anguish, distress and hardship suffered by those with loved ones on board the flight".

But it warned that the continuing search would be a "prolonged process" and said relatives should wait for updates "within the comfort of their own homes".