No objects from search linked yet to vanished Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
"The ship will take part in the surface search until the debris is positively identified and an underwater search area is then predicted," U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Matthews said.
In addition to the ping locator, the ship will also have an unmanned underwater vehicle and other equipment to look for wreckage on the seabed.
The search area is so big that investigators are first hoping to find floating debris so they could set a smaller zone using sophisticated analysis to determine a location from where the pieces drifted. Even if they do that, recovering the flight recorders could be complicated.
Despite the huge area, one advantage is the seabed of the search zone is generally flat, with the exception of a steep slope and a deep trench near its southern end.
The area is dominated by a muddy ocean floor known as Broken Ridge, which is actually a plateau where depths range from as shallow as about 800 meters (2,625 feet) to about 3,000 meters (9,843 feet).
At the edge of the plateau closest to Antarctica is the Diamantina trench, which has been found to be as deep as 5,800 meters (19,000 feet) within the confines of the search zone, although it could be deeper in places that have not been measured.
Matthews said the Navy's ping locator has the "capability to do search-and-recovery operations down to a depth of 20,000 feet."
Information on the flight data and cockpit voice recorders may help investigators resolve what happened on Flight 370. Speculation includes equipment failure, a botched hijacking, terrorism or an act by one of the pilots.
At a hotel near Kuala Lumpur, a group of Chinese relatives of passengers on the plane demanded that the Malaysian government apologize for its handling of the search. They also are angry that Prime Minister Najib Razak announced March 24 that Flight 370 went down in the Indian Ocean before any wreckage was found.
The group, which flew in from Beijing, waved banners that read: "We want evidence, truth, dignity," and "Hand us the murderer. Tell us the truth. Give us our relatives back." They also demanded a meeting with Najib.
An official tweet from Najib on Sunday said, "My thoughts are with the family members of #MH370."
He added: "We will not rest until the plane is found."
Two-thirds of the 227 passengers were Chinese. China has urged Malaysia to be more open about the investigation, while Malaysian officials have defended their handling of the probe and the information they have provided to the relatives.
In Beijing, tensions were still high at a hotel where other Chinese relatives have been meeting with Malaysian representatives. On Sunday, one woman asking questions called Malaysia Airlines "criminal suspects" to applause from the crowd of about 250 people.
Relatives asked why materials being shown to them were in English and not Chinese.
Malaysia Airlines said it would fly family members to Perth, but only once wreckage is confirmed to have been found from the plane. It said a family assistance center would be set up in Perth.
In Sepang, Malaysia, not far from the airport where Flight 370 originated, Lewis Hamilton of Britain won Formula One's Malaysian Grand Prix and dedicated his win to the victims of the flight and their relatives. Before the race, fans held a moment of silence.
"We hope very soon there is news to give comfort to the families," said spectator Chris Sprangers of Australia.
Wong reported from Kuala Lumpur. Associated Press writers Scott McDonald and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur; Chris Lines in Sepang, Malaysia; Kristen Gelineau in Sydney; and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.
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