A mini-submarine deployed to find the crashed Malaysian jet has completed a full 16-hour mission and will be taken past its recommended depth limit to locate the wreckage, even as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott today set a week's deadline for the underwater search.
In yet another disappointment in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the oil slick detected in the Indian Ocean on Sunday by Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield has been found to be not from a plane engine or hydraulics.
"Preliminary analysis of the sample collected by ADV Ocean Shield has confirmed that it is not aircraft engine oil or hydraulic fluid," Joint Agency Coordinating Centre (JACC) that is leading the operations said on the 41st day of the search for the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
However, the mini-submarine completed its full 16-hour mission of scouring the remote area of the Indian Ocean seabed.
"Overnight Bluefin-21 AUV completed a full mission in the search area and is currently planning for its next mission.
Bluefin-21 has searched approximately 90 square kilometres to date and the data from its latest mission is being analysed," the JACC said.
Bluefin 21 is searching in an area defined by four acoustic signals picked up by an Australian search team.
The JACC said the mini-submarine, which aborted its first mission earlier this week after hitting a maximum depth of 4.5 kilometres, would be taken lower after its manufacturer advised there was an "acceptable" risk.
"This expansion of the operating parameters allows the Bluefin-21 to search the sea floor within the predicted limits of the current search area," the JACC said in a statement.
The agency today dismissed as "incorrect" the media reports that said it would take Bluefin-21 anywhere from six weeks to two months to scan the entire underwater search area.
"Since the US Navy provided comment some days ago, the underwater search has been significantly narrowed through detailed acoustic analysis conducted on the four signal detections made by the Towed Pinger Locater on ADV Ocean Shield," the JACC said.
"This analysis has allowed the definition of a reduced and more focused underwater search area. This represents the best lead we have in relation to missing flight MH370 and where the current underwater search efforts are being pursued to their completion so we can either confirm or discount the area as the final resting place of MH370," it said.
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Abbott said the best leads in the underwater search for the plane Boeing 777-200 will be exhausted in about a week.
"We believe that search will be completed within a week or so," Abbott was quoted as saying by The Wall Street Journal.
Abbott said authorities would need to rethink their approach if the remote-controlled vehicle fails to locate the plane's wreckage in a narrow area of ocean where searchers picked up a series of pings.
"If we don't find wreckage, we stop, we regroup, we reconsider," he said.
"My determination for Australia is that we will do whatever we reasonably can to resolve the mystery. If the current search turns up nothing, we won't abandon it, we will simply move to a different phase," he said.
However, the Australian Prime Minister did not elaborate on what the new phase may be.
Meanwhile, Malaysia's Transport and Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein today warned that the cost of the search for the plane's wreckage will be "huge".
"When we look at salvaging (wreckage) at a depth of 4.5 kilometres, no military out there has the capacity to do it," Hishammuddin told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
"We have to look at contractors, and the cost of that will be huge," he said.
The aerial and sea search for the plane continued today with up to 10military aircraft, two civilian plane and 11 ships taking part in the operations.
The Beijing-bound plane carrying 239 people, including five Indians, an Indo-Canadian and 154 Chinese nationals - had mysteriously vanished on March 8 after taking off from Kuala Lumpur.
Using satellite data, officials have concluded that it ended its journey in seas west of Perth.
They do not know why the plane flew so far off course and an investigation is ongoing. Finding the plane's flight recorders are seen as key to understanding what happened.
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.
The underwater vehicle had aborted its second mission due to a technical trouble before it could finally complete its full mission in a third attempt.