Australia Says No Time Limit on Flight 370 Search

PERTH, Australia (AP) -
A piece of unknown debris floats just under the water while the plane was searching for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 , in the southern Indian Ocean, Australia, March 31, 2014. The Orion crew could not identify the object and has sent images of it for analysis to the Rescue Coordination Center and Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). (AP Photo/Rob Griffith, Pool)
A piece of unknown debris floats just under the water while the plane was searching for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 , in the southern Indian Ocean, Australia, March 31, 2014. The Orion crew could not identify the object and has sent images of it for analysis to the Rescue Coordination Center and Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). (AP Photo/Rob Griffith, Pool)

Although it has been slow, difficult and frustrating so far, the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet is nowhere near the point of being scaled back, Australia’s prime minister pledged Monday.

The three-week hunt for Flight 370 has turned up no sign of the Boeing 777, which vanished March 8 with 239 people bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. Ten planes and 11 ships found no sign of the missing plane in the search zone in the southern Indian Ocean, about 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles) west of Australia, officials said.

The search area has evolved as experts analyzed Flight 370’s limited radar and satellite data, moving from the seas off Vietnam, to the waters west of Malaysia and Indonesia, and then to several areas west of Australia. The search zone is now 254,000 square kilometers (98,000 square miles), about a 21/2-hour flight from Perth.

Items recovered so far were discovered to be flotsam unrelated to the Malaysian plane. Several orange-colored objects spotted by plane Sunday turned out to be fishing equipment.

Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion's captain, Wing Commander. Rob Shearer watches out of the window of his aircraft while searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean, Monday, March 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith, Pool)
Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion’s captain, Wing Commander. Rob Shearer watches out of the window of his aircraft while searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean, Monday, March 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith, Pool)

Those leading the effort remain undaunted, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying officials are “well, well short” of any point where they would scale back the hunt. In fact, he said the intensity and magnitude of operations “is increasing, not decreasing.”

On Monday, former Australian defense chief Angus Houston began his role of heading the new Joint Agency Coordination Center, which will oversee communication with international agencies involved in the search.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak plans to travel to Perth on Wednesday to see the search operations firsthand.

The Ocean Shield, an Australian warship carrying a U.S. device that detects “pings” from the plane’s flight recorders, left Perth on Monday evening for the search zone, a three- to four-day trip. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the search, said it conducted sea trials to test the equipment.

Investigators are hoping to first find debris floating on the surface that will help them calculate where the plane went into the water.