NEW DELHI: The search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 entered a new phase on Monday, with underwater search operations resuming. This phase of the search effort is located in the southern Indian Ocean, where officials have been thus far mapping the sea bed.

Announcing the renewed underwater search as the Malaysian contracted GO Phoenix vessel commencing its scan, Australian officials, who are spearheading the search operations, have said that they are “cautiously optimistic” about locating the missing plane, albeit adding that the search effort could take up to a year.

“What we have is a plan to cover the high priority areas, (but) we don't really have any sense of when in the course of that year we're likely to find something,” Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) chief Martin Dolan was quoted by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “All we want to indicate to everyone is we're cautiously optimistic in the course of a year we'll locate the missing aircraft."

This is not the first time that officials involved in the search have expressed optimism regarding the locating of the crashed plane, which disappeared March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board.

In fact, after three months of search operations concentrated in an area narrowed down based on “pings” which were believed to be originating from the plane’s black boxes, authorities concluded that the the acoustic signals believed to be from the missing jet had no connection to it.

The flight’s disappearance is considered one of the biggest aviation mysteries, with evidence suggesting that the plane’s communication systems were “deliberately disabled,” leading to various theories including terrorist involvement or a potential hijack. With all passengers being cleared of suspicion, including two who were traveling on stolen passports, suspicion fell on the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, of MH370. When the plane first disappeared, the flying experience of the pilot and co-pilot were referred to as a measure of safety, with publications pointing to Shah’s 18,000 hours of flying experience and Hamid’s 2,700. Soon after, reports emerged that Hamid had invited two young passengers into the cockpit during an earlier flight in a severe breach of security regulations.

More significantly, the jetliner's data communications systems - the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARA) - were switched off, and investigators have pointed to the fact that someone with knowledge of the systems could have played a role, leading to doubt falling on the pilots themselves. Further, the last words spoken from the cockpit seem to indicate that nothing was wrong, with Hamid reportedly saying, “All right, good night" (later revealed to be goodnight Malaysian three seven zero) when Malaysian air traffic controllers informed them that control was being handed over to Vietnam. The plane never made contact with Vietnam, and investigators believe that the reassuring words were spoken at around the same time that the ACARA systems were turned off. So far, no evidence of the pilots’ involvement has been found.

With no concrete leads and search results yielding no evidence, the Malaysian Prime Minister Razak had formally concluded that the plane crashed into the South Indian Ocean, “beyond any reasonable doubt.” The breakthrough that led Razak to conclude that the missing airline crashed into the Indian Ocean came from British satellite firm Inmarsat, which studied the electronic “pings” or bursts of data that the aircraft had sent its satellites to establish the course of the plane, concluding that it had flown south. This last known position, “is a remote location, far from any landing sites,” said Razak, ascertaining, “It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”

A few days after the statement and following the relatives of the passengers and crew of the missing flight being informed, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) issued a statement saying that the search area is being shifted based on further analysis of data captured between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost. The data, provided by the international investigation team in Malaysia, suggested that the plane was travelling at a higher speed than previously thought, which would increase fuel use and cut the distance it could travel. "The new search area is approximately 319,000 square kilometres in area and about 1,850 kilometres west of Perth," AMSA's Josh Young told a press conference.

The inconsistent information sparked protests with family members issuing a statement in response, reading, “If the passengers did lose their lives, Malaysia Airlines, the Malaysian government and military are the real executioners who killed them.” In China, relatives of passengers on board the flight - 153 of whom were Chinese nationals, led protests outside the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing, accusing the Malaysian government of “cheating” them, and demanding that the Malaysian government issue them an explanation of what happened to the flight.

The change in search area and the continuing lack of clarity on the position of the plane raises an important question: How can planes just disappear with no indication of what went wrong given the technological advancement of the 21st century? As airlines are advertising the provision of in-flight internet usage, do we not have the technology to ascertain what went wrong? The engines of the airplane are fitted with technology to send a signal about what went wrong, although not on the plane’s GPS location. However, Rolls Royce, the plane’s engine manufacturer recently publicly denied that the plane was sending engine data for some five hours after it lost contact with the main control tower. The aircraft was of course fitted with a flight data “black box” (actually, orange in colour), which, IF recovered, will be able to provide the necessary information. However, the black box, which is fitted with a beacon to transmit a signal for 30 days, “pinging” if the aircraft is lost at sea, could itself have been destroyed if the calamity that led to the disappearance/crash of MH370 was powerful enough.