Australian authorities in charge of the underwater search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have said there is a "high probability" the aircraft is not within the existing search area, just months before the official search is due to conclude.
Reports released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) on Tuesday determined that after almost two years of fruitless searching, and with just 10,000 square kilometers of a 120,000-square-kilometer search zone left to investigate, they may have been looking in the wrong place.
The reports were written following a summit between crash investigators and government representatives from Australia, China and Malaysia in November, during which it was concluded that the missing Boeing 777 jetliner was more likely to be located north of the ATSB's current search zone.
"The experts agreed that Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's (CSIRO) debris drift modelling results present strong evidence that the aircraft is most likely to be located to the north of the current indicative underwater search area," an ATSB statement accompanying the reports said on Tuesday.
"Given the high confidence in the search undertaken to date, the experts also agreed that the previously defined indicative underwater area is unlikely to contain the missing aircraft.
"When considered together with updated flight path modelling, the experts concluded that an unsearched area between latitudes 33 degrees S and 36 degrees S along the 7th arc of approximately 25,000 square kilometers has the highest probability of containing the wreckage of the aircraft."
According to the ATSB, just 10,000 square kilometers of the search area is yet to be investigated, with the overall cost of the operation so far totaling more than 105 million U.S dollars, but the ATSB said any decision to continue searching, or alter the search zone for the aircraft, is up to Malaysian authorities.
Previously the ATSB said without new, credible evidence of the plane's whereabouts, the search operation would be "indefinitely suspended."
"Malaysia will continue to take the central role in the determination of any future course of action in the search for MH370," the report said.
Despite the ATSB's report that the aircraft is unlikely to be in the current search zone, more than 20 pieces of debris have washed up on beaches in Mozambique, Mauritius, Reunion Island and Tanzania - something the ATSB said was consistent with ocean drift modelling which still does point to the Boeing 777 having gone down in the Indian Ocean.
The ATSB's release comes a day after an Australian air crash support group claimed to have come across personal items from the missing jetliner.
Perth woman Sheryl Keen said on Monday that she had come across more than 20 items from MH370 including small personal items, shoes and bags which were found by amateur American investigator Blaine Gibson in Madagascar.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) then released a statement saying they had made contact with Keen to investigate the claims.
"The Australian Federal Police has been contacted by the Air Crash Support Group Australia regarding a number of items in the group's possession," the AFP said in a statement on Monday.
MH370 was a scheduled passenger flight from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing; however, it disappeared on March 8, 2014 over the Southern Indian Ocean with 239 passengers and crew on board.