MH370: Search moves north-east following fresh analysis
Published 29/03/2014 | 06:34
The search for wreckage from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 moved 1,100km to the north-east yesterday following a fresh analysis of radar and satellite data.
Five aircraft combing the new stretch of the Indian Ocean quickly found multiple objects which ships will try to locate on Saturday.
The search zone was re¬calibrated, bringing it considerably closer to the Western Australian coast, after data analysis indicated that the Boeing 777 – which vanished soon after taking off from Kuala Lumpur three weeks ago – was flying faster than initially estimated, and therefore would have run out of fuel more quickly.
Several objects, including two rectangular items that were blue and grey, were seen in the southern Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia and ships on the scene will attempt to recover them.
"The objects cannot be verified or discounted as being from MH370 until they are relocated and recovered by ships," the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
"It is not known how much flotsam, such as from fishing activities, is ordinarily there. At least one distinctive fishing object has been identified."
Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said a cold front would bring rain, low clouds and reduced visibility over the southern part of the search area, with moderate winds and swells of up to 6ft. Conditions will improve tomorrow, although rain, drizzle and low clouds are still likely.
Newly analysed satellite data shifted the search zone yesterday, raising hopes crews may be closer to obtaining physical evidence that Flight 370 crashed in the Indian Ocean on March 8 with 239 people aboard.
The newly-targeted zone is nearly 700 miles north east of sites the searchers have criss-crossed for the past week.
The redeployment came after analysts determined that the jet may have been travelling faster than earlier estimates and would therefore have run out of fuel sooner.
During the earlier search, hundreds of objects have been seen in the water by satellites, but so far not one has been confirmed as being from the missing Boeing 777.
Search planes are being sent out from Perth in a staggered manner, so at least one plane will be over the area for most of the daylight hours.
Five P-3 Orions - three from Australia and one each from Japan and New Zealand - plus a Japanese coastguard jet, a Chinese Ilyushin IL-76, and one civilian jet acting as a communications relay, were taking part in the air search.
The shift to the new zone could be a break for searchers because it is a shorter flight from land and has much calmer weather than the remote stretch previously targeted.
But Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said 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.
The new area is about 80 per cent smaller than the old one, but still spans about 123,000 square miles, roughly the size of Poland.
In most places, depths range from about 6,560 to 13,120 feet, although the much deeper Diamantina trench edges the search area.
Flight 370 disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The hunt 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.
That change was based on analysis of satellite data, but officials said a re-examination and refinement of that analysis indicated the aircraft was travelling faster than previously estimated, resulting in increased fuel use and reducing the possible distance it could have flown before going down.
"This is our best estimate of the area in which the aircraft is likely to have crashed into the ocean," Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said.
Investigators continued puzzling over what might have happened aboard the plane. A US official said the FBI's searches of computer hard drives belonging to pilot and co-pilot, including a flight simulator with deleted files, have yielded "no significant information" about what happened or what role, if any, the crew might have played in its disappearance.
The US Navy is sending equipment that can detect pings from the recorders, or "black boxes" up to about 20,000 feet deep, and an unmanned underwater vehicle that operates at depths up to 14,800 feet.
Meanwhile Interpol rejected comments from a Malaysian minister that it takes too much time and is too difficult to check the international police agency's database to confirm if a passport has been stolen.
The issue arose because two passengers used stolen passports to board Flight 370.
Interpol said: "Malaysia's decision not to consult Interpol's Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database before allowing travellers to enter the country or board planes cannot be defended by falsely blaming technology or Interpol."
According to the Malay Mail Online, interior minister Zahid Hamidi said Interpol's passport database was "too large" and would be too much for Malaysia's database management system.