World News

Wednesday 30 July 2014

More objects in plane search zone

Published 28/03/2014|02:22

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A Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion returns to Perth after searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane (AP)

Officials have moved the search area for the lost Malaysian airliner 680 miles to the north east after a new analysis of radar data, and planes quickly found multiple objects in the new zone.

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Five out of 10 aircraft hunting for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 found objects of various colours, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa) said.

It was not clear whether the objects were from the plane, and photos of them will be analysed overnight. Amsa said the objects included two that were blue and grey - among the colours of the missing plane.

A Chinese patrol ship in the area will attempt to locate the objects tomorrow, Amsa said.

The three-week hunt for the jet has been filled with possible sightings, with hundreds of objects identified by satellite and others by plane, but so far not a single piece of debris has been confirmed.

Australian officials said they turned away from the old search area, which they had combed for a week, because a new analysis of radar data suggests the plane had flown faster and therefore ran out of fuel more quickly than previously estimated.

The new area is closer to land and has calmer weather than the old one, which will make searching easier.

"We have moved on" from the old search area, said John Young, manager of Amsa's emergency response division.

The radar data that was re-analysed was received soon after Flight 370 lost communications and veered from its scheduled path on March 8. The Beijing-bound flight carrying 239 people turned around soon after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, flew west towards the Strait of Malacca and disappeared from radar.

The search area has changed several times since the plane vanished as experts analysed a frustratingly small amount of data from the aircraft, including the radar signals and "pings" that a satellite picked up for several hours after radar and voice contact was lost.

The latest 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 in the Indian Ocean.

Malaysia's civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told reporters in Kuala Lumpur that personnel at Boeing in Seattle had helped with the analysis of the flight.

Planes and ships spent a week searching about 1,550 miles south west of Perth, Australia, the base for the search. Now they are searching about 1,150 miles west of the city.

Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said: "This is our best estimate of the area in which the aircraft is likely to have crashed into the ocean."

He told a news conference in Canberra that a wide range of scenarios went into the calculation. "We're looking at the data from the so-called pinging of the satellite, the polling of the satellites, and that gives a distance from a satellite to the aircraft to within a reasonable approximation," he said.

He added that information was coupled with various projections of aircraft performance and the plane's distance from the satellites at given times.

Mr Dolan said the search now is for surface debris to give an indication of "where the main aircraft wreckage is likely to be. This has a long way to go".

A number of the objects spotted today were white or light in colour, and two were blue/grey and rectangular, Amsa said, adding that the finds needs to be confirmed by ship.

Mr Young said the hundreds of floating objects detected over the last week by satellites in the former search area, previously considered possible wreckage, "may or may not actually be objects".

"In regards to the old areas, we have not seen any debris and I would not wish to classify any of the satellite imagery as debris, nor would I want to classify any of the few visual sightings that we made as debris. That's just not justifiable from what we have seen," he said.

But in Malaysia, defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein said at a news conference that because of ocean drifts, "this new search area could still be consistent with the potential objects identified by various satellite images over the past week".

The new search area is about 80% smaller than the old one, but it remains about 123,000 square miles, about the size of Poland.

Sea depths in the new area range from 6,560ft to 13,120ft, Mr Young said. There are trenches in the area that go even deeper, Australia's national science agency said in a statement. That includes the Diamantina trench, which is up to 24,000ft deep, but it was unclear whether the deepest parts of the trench are in the search area.

If the wreckage is especially deep, that will complicate search efforts. The US Navy is sending equipment that can hear "black box" pings up to about 20,000ft deep, and an unmanned underwater vehicle that operates at depths up to 14,800ft.

Mr Young said a change in search area is not unusual.

"This is the normal business of search and rescue operations - that new information comes to light, refined analyses take you to a different place," he told reporters. "I don't count the original work as a waste of time."

He said the new search zone, being about 434 miles closer to mainland Australia, will be easier to reach. Planes used so much fuel getting to and from the old search area that they had only about two hours of spotting time per sortie.

The new area also has better weather conditions than the old one, where searches were regularly scrapped because of storms, high winds and low visibility.

"The search area has moved out of the 'roaring 40s,' which creates very adverse weather," Mr Young said, referring to the latitude of the previous search area. "I'm not sure that we'll get perfect weather out there, but it's likely to be better than we saw in the past."

Australia's HMAS Success is expected to arrive in the area tomorrow, Mr Young said. The Chinese Maritime Safety Administration patrol boat Haixun 01 is also on site, and several more Chinese ships are on the way.

Press Association

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