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Flight MH370: Military to pull out of search operation

The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is being scaled back as hope of finding any floating debris has run out.

The search operation is now in a phase where it may take months, maybe years, before any wreckage is found on the bottom of the southern Indian Ocean.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says military involvement will be significantly scaled back with an end to surveillance flights and the withdrawal of surface-searching naval vessels.

Authorities will now look to handing over to companies specialising in lengthy deep-water searches.

The search is still focused on an area of seabed covering around 23,000 square miles (60,000sq km) off the west coast of Australia. That area compares with the roughly 154 square miles (400sq km) of already covered by a Bluefin-21 underwater drone.

The failure of the underwater search to find any trace of the plane has left Australian officials with no fresh leads.

Mr Abbott says hiring a civilian contractor to search deeper underwater will cost around $A60 million.

Comparisons have been made with the recovery of Air France Flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 en route to Paris from Rio de Janeiro.

In that case, searchers had a better idea of where the plane went down after finding hundreds of pieces of floating remains quickly.

Yet it still took small robotic submarines nearly 60 trips under the surface before the black boxes were discovered in an area where the ocean floor was nearly 2.5 miles (4km) deep.