KUALA LUMPUR - Authorities are not letting up in the search for MH370, with Malaysia, Australia and China pledging to continue looking for the plane even after the first phase of the search completes in May.
Should the current search fail to detect the plane by then, the three countries have now committed to casting the net wider around the prime search area in the southern Indian Ocean.
They are planning to cover a further 60,000 sq km in the second phase that will start immediately at the end of next month.
The news, which runs against some earlier speculation, was well received by families and next of kin of those missing.
"If the aircraft is not found in the current area, Malaysia, Australia and China have collectively agreed to extend the search area within the areas with the highest probability of where the plane could be," said Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.
"When that search is done, we would have covered 95 per cent of the aircraft's estimated flight path. This is our commitment.
"But we are hopeful that we can find it in the first 60,000 sq km.
"We have only covered 61 per cent of it," he told reporters after chairing a Ministerial Tripartite Meeting at the Shangri-La Hotel here yesterday.
Also present were Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss and Chinese Transport Minister Yang Chuantang.
Liow added that Malaysia was committed to match any financial need, which would be shared by Australia, in funding the second phase of the search.
No sign of the plane has been discovered in the year since it disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board.
Liow said so far, about 30 objects had been found and analysed in the prime search area but to no avail.
The new search is estimated to cost less than A$120million (S$126million), which has been pumped into the first phase, as the search vessels for MH370 would already be in the area, said Truss.
The terrain of the new search area is expected to be similar as the first - with depths reaching up to 6,000m, a rugged and sharp seabed and high waves.
He added that there was a line of extinct volcanoes in the new search area and that little else is known in the new unmapped region of the search.
He said it would soon be winter in the search area and expected harsher weather, which could hamper search efforts.
"We are determined to do whatever we can to find and give answers to the families of those on board.
"We have the best search equipment in the world to help us find MH370 and we are confident we are in the right search area.
"We are optimistic that we can recover the aircraft," he said.
Yang said China was dedicated to continue searching until "the plane is found".
"I would say we have fully honoured our word that the search will never be relaxed and in the spirit of co-operation, we will continue until we find the craft so we can resolve the mystery and give solace to the next of kin," he said.