Flight MH370: Fresh objects found in new Indian Ocean search area
Five aircraft have spotted ‘multiple objects of various colours’ after the air and sea search was moved 1,100 km north on Friday
A Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion aircraft searching for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Photograph: Michael Martina/Reuters
Saturday 29 March 2014 01.09 GMT
Fresh objects spotted by planes searching for a missing Malaysian passenger jet in a new area of the southern Indian Ocean have again raised hopes of unravelling the three-week-old mystery.
Australian authorities coordinating the operation dramatically moved the air and sea search 1,100 km north on Friday after new analysis of radar and satellite data concluded Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 travelled faster and for a shorter distance after vanishing from civilian radar screens on March 8.
But Malaysian transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters near Kuala Lumpur on Saturday that there was no new information on the objects, which could just be regular debris floating in the ocean rather than parts of the missing plane.
“I’ve got to wait to get the reports on whether they have retrieved those objects …. Those will give us some indication,” said Hishammuddin, who was accompanied by his wife and children as he visited relatives of some of the passengers at a hotel in Putrajaya, Malaysia.
Australia said that five international aircraft had spotted “multiple objects of various colours” in the new search area some 1,850 km west of Perth.
The items included two rectangular items that were blue and grey, and ships on the scene would attempt to recover them, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
Australian prime minister Tony Abbott told reporters in Sydney that the job of locating the debris was still difficult.
“We should not underestimate the difficulty of this work it is an extraordinarily remote location. There are inhospitable seas, it’s an inaccessible place, we are trying to find small bits of wreckage in a vast ocean,” he said.
“We are trying to find small bits of wreckage in a vast ocean, and while we are throwing everything at this, the search goes on.”
A map of the new search area for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Photograph: Australian Maritime Safety Authority/Getty Images
Flight Lieutenant Jamin Baker was on a New Zealand Air Force Orion which spotted several items and dropped a marker buoy in “an area of interest”.
“Obviously we don’t know if these (objects) are associated with the aircraft yet but it certainly looks like we are seeing a lot more debris and just general flotsam in the water, so we could be on to something here,” Baker said.
One Chinese navy ship was in the area and would be trying to recover objects on Saturday, while other ships were steaming to the area, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
Malaysia says the Boeing 777, which vanished less than an hour into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was likely diverted deliberately but investigators have turned up no apparent motive or other red flags among the 227 passengers or the 12 crew.
US officials close to the investigation said the FBI found nothing illuminating in data it had received from computer equipment used by MH370’s pilots, including a home-made flight simulator.
The search has involved more than two dozen countries and 60 aircraft and ships but has been bedevilled by regional rivalries and an apparent reluctance to share potentially crucial information due to security concerns.
Malaysian officials said the new search area was the result of a painstaking analysis of Malaysian military radar data and satellite readings from British company Inmarsat carried out by US, Chinese, British and Malaysian investigators.
Engine performance analysis by the plane’s manufacturer, Boeing, helped investigators determine how long the plane could have flown before it ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean, they said.
“Information which had already been examined by the investigation was re-examined in light of new evidence drawn from the Inmarsat data analysis,” Malaysia’s acting Transport Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, told a news conference on Friday.
For more than a week, ships and surveillance planes had been scouring seas 2,500 km south-west of Perth, where satellite images had shown possible debris from Flight MH370. That search zone has now been abandoned.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said the shift was based on analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca. At that time, the Boeing 777 was making a radical diversion west from its course.
Malaysia’s civil aviation chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said at Friday’s news conference he was “not at liberty” to give the exact path of the aircraft.
Officials close to the investigation told Reuters last week that the plane may have passed close to Port Blair, the capital of India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands, 885 km further north-west from where Malaysia has said its military radar last detected it.
At around 319,000 sq km – roughly the size of Poland – the new search area is larger, but closer to Perth, allowing aircraft to spend longer on site. It is also favourable in terms of the weather as it is out of the Roaring 40s, the the deep sea region known for its huge seas and storm-force winds.
Searchers have perhaps a week to find debris, calculate the likely crash area and find the aircraft’s voice and data “black boxes” before batteries showing their location run out.