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Search area for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 'to double if not found in current area'

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Questions remain unanswered about the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 one year ago (AP)

Questions remain unanswered about the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 one year ago (AP)

Questions remain unanswered about the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 one year ago (AP)

Government ministers from Australia, China and Malaysia on Thursday said they would double the search area for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 if wreckage is not found in the current target area.

No trace has been found of the Boeing 777 aircraft, which disappeared in March last year carrying 239 passengers and crew in what has become one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history. Most of the passengers were Chinese.

The extended search for the jetliner, which is believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean off Australia's west coast, could take up to a year, officials said at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss and Chinese Transport Minister Yang Chuantang pledged to double the current search area if necessary.

"Should the aircraft not be found within the current search area, ministers agreed to extend the search by an additional 60,000 square kilometres to bring the search area to 120,000 square kilometres and thereby cover the entire highest probability area identified by expert analysis," they said in a joint statement.

The second phase of the search would cost an estimated A$50 million ($38.74 million) which would be borne by Malaysia and Australia, Liow said at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur.

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A relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries at the Beijing Capital International Airport

A relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries at the Beijing Capital International Airport

REUTERS

A staff member at the Malaysian Airlines' office in Beijing's International Airport reacts to journalists in Beijing (AP)

A staff member at the Malaysian Airlines' office in Beijing's International Airport reacts to journalists in Beijing (AP)

A relative of a passenger of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 speaks to journalists at a hotel in Beijing March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee

A relative of a passenger of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 speaks to journalists at a hotel in Beijing March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee

REUTERS

A Malaysia Airlines spokesman (C) speaks to journalists regarding information about Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, during a news conference at a hotel in Beijing March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee

A Malaysia Airlines spokesman (C) speaks to journalists regarding information about Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, during a news conference at a hotel in Beijing March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee

REUTERS

Journalists take pictures and videos of a relative (C) of a passenger of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, at a hotel in Beijing March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Journalists take pictures and videos of a relative (C) of a passenger of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, at a hotel in Beijing March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee

REUTERS

The arrival board at the International Airport in Beijing shows a Malaysian airliner is delayed (AP)

The arrival board at the International Airport in Beijing shows a Malaysian airliner is delayed (AP)

The chief executive of Malaysian Airlines speaks during a press conference at a hotel in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur (AP)

The chief executive of Malaysian Airlines speaks during a press conference at a hotel in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur (AP)

Journalists wait in a conference room for a news conference regarding the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, at a hotel in Beijing March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Journalists wait in a conference room for a news conference regarding the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, at a hotel in Beijing March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee

REUTERS

A boy looks at a Malaysian Airlines plane from the viewing gallery of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, in this file picture. A Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew lost contact with air traffic controllers early on March 8, 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, the airline said in a statement.
REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad/Files

A boy looks at a Malaysian Airlines plane from the viewing gallery of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, in this file picture. A Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew lost contact with air traffic controllers early on March 8, 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, the airline said in a statement. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad/Files

REUTERS

Family members of those onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight walk into the waiting area at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Samsul Said

Family members of those onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight walk into the waiting area at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Samsul Said

REUTERS

A relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries, surrounded by journalists, at the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

A relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries, surrounded by journalists, at the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

REUTERS

A relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries at the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing March 8, 2014.  REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

A relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries at the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

REUTERS

Family members of those onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight walk into the waiting area at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang March 8, 2014.      REUTERS/Samsul Said

Family members of those onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight walk into the waiting area at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang March 8, 2014. REUTERS/Samsul Said

REUTERS

A woman cries at the arrival hall of the International Airport in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 8, 2014. Relatives and friends were arriving at Beijing airport for news after a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 was reported missing on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing Saturday. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A woman cries at the arrival hall of the International Airport in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 8, 2014. Relatives and friends were arriving at Beijing airport for news after a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 was reported missing on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing Saturday. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

AP

Relatives and friends, center, of passengers aboard a missing plane, are surrounded by media as they arrive at a hotel in Beijing, China Saturday, March 8, 2014. A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 carrying 239 people lost contact over the South China Sea early Saturday morning on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and international aviation authorities still hadn't located the jetliner several hours later. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Relatives and friends, center, of passengers aboard a missing plane, are surrounded by media as they arrive at a hotel in Beijing, China Saturday, March 8, 2014. A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 carrying 239 people lost contact over the South China Sea early Saturday morning on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and international aviation authorities still hadn't located the jetliner several hours later. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

AP

A woman in tears is helped by airport workers to a bus waiting for relatives of the missing Malaysian airliner at the international airport in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 8, 2014. A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 carrying 239 people lost contact over the South China Sea early Saturday morning on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and international aviation authorities still hadn't located the jetliner several hours later. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A woman in tears is helped by airport workers to a bus waiting for relatives of the missing Malaysian airliner at the international airport in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 8, 2014. A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 carrying 239 people lost contact over the South China Sea early Saturday morning on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and international aviation authorities still hadn't located the jetliner several hours later. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

AP

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A relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries at the Beijing Capital International Airport

The total search area including the extension "would cover 95 percent of the flight path", he said.

MH370 vanished from radar screens shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing. Investigators believe it was flown thousands of miles off course before eventually crashing.

The search of a rugged 60,000 sq km (23,000 sq mile) patch of sea floor some 1,600 km (1,000 miles) west of the Australian city of Perth, which experts believe is the plane's most likely resting place, will likely be finished by the end of May.

Four vessels equipped with sophisticated underwater drones, have searched more than 60 percent of the previously unmapped expanse of sea floor that has been designated the highest priority.

Loss-making Malaysia Airlines, whose fortunes worsened when another of its Boeing 777's was shot down over Ukraine on July 17, killing all 298 people on board, was delisted at the end of 2014 as part of a $1.8 billion government-led restructuring.

Reuters