New twist in plane mystery as search zone shifts again
Published 29/03/2014 | 02:30
Salvage teams have abandoned a search zone they had spent days scouring for wreckage of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane and redeployed the aircraft and ships to a new area about 1,200km to the north.
Following a surprise declaration by the Australian authorities that "we have moved on", the search was shifted and five aircraft soon spotted floating objects believed to be possible wreckage in the new zone.
The sightings of rectangular objects described as being "blue and grey" – among the colours of the missing plane – close together in the Indian Ocean are due to be confirmed today when a Chinese ship will reach their location, and marked the first multiple spotting of suspected debris in a narrow area.
But the authorities faced fresh questions about the handling of the three-week search for Flight MH370 and its 239 passengers and crew following an effort that started in the Strait of Malacca, shifted south towards the remote southern Indian Ocean and has now moved north to calmer waters, about 1,850km west of Perth.
The new area is closer to shore and will allow aircraft to spend more time above the target zone, but still spans 123,000 square miles – about the size of Poland – and covers harsher underwater terrain that will make it far more difficult to locate the black box.
David Gallo, an expert who helped to lead the two-year search for the flight recorders after an Air France crash in the Atlantic in 2009, said he was "confused" by the decision to abandon the apparent debris flow spotted by satellites.
He said the analysts may have more extensive information than had been released.
"To give up on that much debris so quickly – they were talking about pieces 23 metres long – I don't know how you don't follow up on it and have a look," he said. "Up until a few days it was the key – now we just pick up and move 700 miles away . . . I wonder if there is a bit of additional information that excludes that debris."
The twists in the search have proven gruelling for families of passengers, with many relatives clinging to hope that some may have survived. No wreckage has yet been confirmed following Malaysia's announcement five days ago that the plane crashed with no survivors.
"We will continue hoping until there is absolute evidence that they are all gone," said Chng Khai Cheik, a Malaysian whose 33-year-old sister, Mei Ling, was on board.
The fresh assessment of the plane's route followed analysis by a team of UK, Chinese and US experts of a series of faint pings emitted by the aircraft after it veered off course and headed south from the Strait of Malacca. Boeing also provided fresh input about the aircraft's range and capabilities.
Dr Gallo, from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, said the search covered Broken Ridge.
"It would be an incredibly challenging place in which to work," he said.
"It is a plateau that gets as shallow as 600 metres but as deep as 5,600 metres and there is one scarp that runs along the southside that is immense. It will be a real challenge to try to get in there with a vehicle and pick up bits of aircraft."
A US black box detector, which is being shipped to the area from Perth, will be diverted to the new zone but will not arrive for about a week and will have only a few days to detect pings from the black box before its battery life ends. (© Daily Telegraph, London)