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With no hard evidence, hunt for MH370 to get deeper, broader and pricier

By Holly Yan, CNN
updated 8:26 AM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Australian, Malaysian and Chinese officials meet in Australia on Wednesday
  • They will review data collected so far and figure out which high-tech tools are needed
  • Australia estimates the next phase will cost $60 million
  • Wife of passenger: "It's gotten harder as time has gone on"

(CNN) -- After 61 days and no tangible evidence, officials from Malaysia, China and Australia will hunker down Wednesday to plot the next steps in the hunt for MH370.

Their tasks: Review all the information gathered so far and figure out what tools will be needed in the next stage of the search -- a deeper, broader probe of the Indian Ocean.

Two things are certain: This new phase will be expensive and even more difficult.

Australia estimates it will cost $60 million, with the breakdown of who's going to pay for what yet to be determined.

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On June 26, the Joint Agency Coordination Center released a map showing the new search area for flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean. On June 26, the Joint Agency Coordination Center released a map showing the new search area for flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean.
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
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Photos: The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Photos: The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

But perhaps the greatest challenge now will be scouring unchartered territory. A key element of the new phase will be a detailed mapping of the ocean floor.

"We know that the water is very deep," Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said this week. "And for the next stage involving sonar and other autonomous vehicles, potentially at very great depths, we need to have an understanding of the ocean floor to be able to undertake that kind of search effectively and safely."

The next phase will focus on 60,000 square kilometers of the ocean floor, a process that could take six to eight months.

Truss said he's not sure how deep the ocean is in the expanded search area because "it's never been mapped."

Search enters new, 'more difficult' $60 million phase

The tools

Searchers plan to use more highly specialized technology, including towed side-scan sonar and more autonomous underwater vehicles. Truss said most of the new equipment will likely have to come from the private sector.

"You can count on one hand the number of devices that can do this work, when you talk about towed sonar devices," said Angus Houston, chief coordinator of the joint search effort, said Monday.

Truss said he's optimistic that the new devices will be in the water within a month or two. In the meantime, he said, the Bluefin-21 drone will continue underwater missions.

The Bluefin-21 has already scanned 400 square kilometers of the Indian Ocean floor, but with no luck. The United States has authorized the use of the drone for another month. The cost? About $40,000 a day.

While the Bluefin-21 provides greater resolution than deep-towed sonar devices, the drone can only go about 4.5 kilometers deep.

Skepticism abound

Most Americans believe the search for missing plane should continue, but almost half think the mystery will never be solved, according to a new national poll.

The CNN/ORC International poll comes nearly two months after the March 8 disappearance of the plane carrying 239 people.

Nearly seven in 10 respondents, or 69%, say that the search should continue, though 79% believe there are no survivors.

According to the poll, 52% believe that the general public will eventually find out what occurred, but 46% say that the fate of the plane will always remain a mystery.

Only 26% of Americans say that the Malaysian government has done a good job managing the search and providing information to the general public.

The survey, which is based on interviews with 1,008 adult Americans conducted by telephone from May 2 through May 4, has an overall sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Grappling with reality

As the days tick by, some relatives of passengers say the pain only gets worse.

"It's gotten harder as time has gone on," said Danica Weeks, whose husband Paul was on the plane.

"To be honest, I was confident ... they were going to find it in this high priority search area. Obviously they haven't. I've been preparing emotionally and physically to prepare a memorial for Paul."

READ: MH370: Hope transcends frustration in quest to bring families closure

READ: Plane audio recording played in public for first time to Chinese families

READ: CNN TV exclusive: Malaysian PM not declaring passengers dead

CNN's Ray Sanchez and Bill Weir contributed to this report.

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