Thursday 25 December 2014

Jet search plane spots more objects

Published 29/03/2014 | 06:47

Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein after meeting with relatives of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 (AP)
Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein after meeting with relatives of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 (AP)
Ground crew unload a Sea Hawk helicopter at Perth's RAAF Base Pearce to help with the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 (AP)

A Chinese military plane scanning part of a search zone for signs of debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has spotted several objects floating in the sea, including two bearing colours of the missing jet.

But it was not immediately clear whether the objects were related to the three-week-old investigation, and the second day of searching in an area the size of Poland ended with no evidence found of the jet, officials said.

The Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 spotted three floating objects, China's official Xinhua News Agency said, a day after several planes and ships combing the newly targeted area closer to Australia saw several other objects.

Ships from China and Australia scooped up items described only as "objects from the ocean", but none were "confirmed to be related" to Flight 370, said a statement from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is overseeing the search.

Relatives and friends of the passengers said they were tortured by the uncertainty over the fate of their loved ones, as they wait for hard evidence that the plane crashed.

Sarah Bajc, the American girlfriend of US passenger Philip Wood, said in Beijing: "This is the trauma of maybe he's dead, maybe he's not. Maybe he's still alive and we need to find him. Maybe he died within the first hour of the flight, and we don't know."

"I mean, there's absolutely no way for me to reconcile that in my heart."

The three objects spotted by the Chinese plane today were white, red and orange. The missing Boeing 777's exterior was red, white, blue and grey.

An Australian PC3 Orion search plane also sighted objects in a different part of the search area, but the maritime safety authority did not describe those objects in greater detail.

An image captured a day earlier by a New Zealand plane showed a white rectangular object floating in the sea, but it was not clear whether it was related to the missing jet or was just sea debris.

Flight 370 disappeared March 8 while bound from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and investigators have been puzzled over what happened aboard the plane, with speculation ranging from equipment failure and a botched hijacking to terrorism or an act by one of the pilots.

The latter was fuelled by reports that the pilot's home flight simulator had files deleted from it, but Malaysian defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein said checks had turned up no new information.

He said: "What I know is that there is nothing sinister from the simulators, but of course that will have to be confirmed by the chief of police."

Newly-analysed satellite data shifted the search zone yesterday, raising expectations that searchers may be closer to getting physical evidence that the plane crashed in the Indian Ocean with 239 people aboard.

That would also help narrow the hunt for the wreckage and the plane's black boxes, which could contain clues to what caused the plane to be so far off-course.

The US Navy has already sent equipment that can detect pings from the back boxes, and Australian prime minister Tony Abbott told reporters in Sydney that the equipment would be put on an Australian naval ship soon.

"It will be taken to the most prospective search area and if there is good reason to deploy it, it will be deployed," he said, without giving a time frame. Other officials have said it could take days for the ship, the Ocean Shield, to reach the search area.

The newly targeted zone is nearly 700 miles (1,130km) north-east of sites the searchers have criss-crossed for the past week. The redeployment came after analysts determined that the Boeing 777 may have been travelling faster than earlier estimates and would therefore have run out of fuel sooner.

The new search area is closer to Perth than the previous one, with a flying time of two-and-a-half hours each way, allowing for five hours of search time, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

AMSA said five P-3 Orions three from Australia and one each from Japan and New Zealand - plus a Japanese coast guard jet, the Chinese Ilyushin IL-76, and one civilian jet acting as a communications relay took part today.

Royal Australian Air Force Flight Lt. Russell Adams said: "The weather in the area was reasonably good - most of the area we were able to see four or five kilometres (two or three miles) or more."

"The sea state was up, however, which meant there were quite a few whitecaps in the area so the crew would have had a bit of difficulty discerning between objects in the water and the whitecaps, so it made it hard for the guys today."

Some family members in Beijing said they want to fly to Kuala Lumpur to seek more answers from the government, but an airline representative said it may have to wait a day because of a lack of hotel space this weekend because of the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix race.

Steve Wang, a representative of some of the Chinese families in Beijing, said about 50 relatives wanted to go to Malaysia because they were not happy with the responses given by Malaysian government representatives in China.

"Because they sent a so-called high-level group to meet us, but they have not been able to answer all our questions," he said. "It's either they are not in charge of a certain aspect of work or that it's still being investigated, or it's not convenient for them to comment."

Malaysia Airlines' commercial director, Hugh Dunleavy, said in Beijing that the airline was trying to facilitate the relatives' travel to Kuala Lumpur, but that plans had not been confirmed because of the difficulties in booking hotels this weekend.

If investigators can determine that the plane went down in the newly targeted zone - which spans about 123,000 square miles (319,000 square kilometres) - recovery of its flight data and cockpit voice recorders could be complicated.

Much of the sea floor in the area is about 6,600ft (2,000m) below the surface, but depths may reach a maximum of about 19,700ft (6,000m) at its easternmost edge.

The hunt for the plane focused first on the Gulf of Thailand, along the plane's planned path. But when radar data showed it had veered sharply west, the search moved to the Andaman Sea, off the western coast of Malaysia, before pivoting to the southern Indian Ocean, south-west of Australia.

Press Association

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