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Private firms to hunt for missing jet

| Monday, April 28, 2014, 5:42 p.m.

Private companies specializing in deep ocean search will be hired to continue the quest to find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Australia's prime minister said on Monday, and the cost could run more than $55 million and take six to eight months.

The Navy's robotic submarine, Bluefin-21, has searched more than 150 square miles of the floor of the Indian Ocean in an area where investigators thought they had detected pings from the Boeing 777's black box transmitters in early April. We are “baffled and disappointed” that no wreckage had been found 52 days into the search, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at a news conference in Canberra, the nation's capital.

The undersea search area will be expanded from the most probable impact zone to a much wider area totaling 21,621 square miles.

Side-scan sonar devices towed behind ships will be used to traverse the expanded search area, said retired Australian Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who has been coordinating search efforts from Perth, Australia.

Abbott indicated that air searches for surface debris would be discontinued imminently. “It is highly unlikely we will find any debris on the ocean surface,” he said, explaining that any material from the plane probably would have become waterlogged and sunk by this time.

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