Object spotted in hunt for missing plane
Published 22/03/2014 | 10:45
A Chinese satellite has spotted a large object along a broad stretch of ocean where officials hope to find a Malaysia Airlines plane that has been missing for more than two weeks, Malaysia's defence minister says.
Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters today that he had been informed that a Chinese satellite had spotted an object 22.5 metres (74 feet) by 13 metres (43 feet).
He said, "The news that I just received is that the Chinese ambassador received a satellite image of a floating object in the southern corridor and they will be sending ships to verify."
He said he had no other information and that China would release further details. It was not immediately clear whether the object was seen near where another satellite found two objects earlier this week.
"Something that was floating on the sea that long ago may no longer be floating," he said. "It's also certain that any debris or other material would have moved a significant distance over that time, potentially hundreds of kilometres."
Malaysia has begun appealing to the handful of nations with deep sea detection equipment for help in what may be a long search for the aircraft's black box. The search area spans 9,000 square miles across waters that are up to 13,000 feet deep.
Meanwhile, further clues emerged about the fate of the aircraft and its 239 passengers.
A transcript of the communication between the cockpit and air traffic controllers reveals the two-way conversation between Fariq Abdul Hamid, the 27-year-old co-pilot, and air traffic controllers.
Analysts said the sequence of messages appeared to be "perfectly routine" and gives no indication of the bizarre ordeal ahead, as the plane's communications were disabled and it turned sharply westward.
Two features, they said, stand out as potentially odd.
The first was a message delivered by the cockpit at 1.07am, saying that the plane was flying at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. This message was unnecessary as it repeated a call that had already been delivered six minutes earlier.
Steve Landells, a former British Airways pilot who flew Boeing 777s, said this second message was not required but he did not regard it as suspicious. "It could be as simple as the pilot forgetting or not being sure that he had told air traffic controllers he had reached the altitude," he said. "He might be reconfirming he was at 350 (35,000 feet). It is not unusual. I wouldn't read anything into it."
The other odd feature, which is one of the reasons for suspicions that the plane's disappearance was deliberate, was that its loss of communications and subsequent sharp turn westward occurred during the handover from air traffic controllers in Kuala Lumpur to those in Ho Chi Minh City.
"If I was going to steal the aeroplane, that would be the point I would do it," Stephen Buzdygan, a former British Airways pilot who piloted Boeing 777s. "There might be a bit of dead space between the air traffic controllers. It was the only time during the flight they would maybe not have been able to be seen from the ground."
The fresh details emerged as the initial hope prompted by the appearance of floating objects up to 79 foot long began to dwindle.
After a second day of fruitless searching for the possible debris, Tony Abbott, Australia's prime minister, pledged that the effort would continue, describing the ongoing ordeal as "a gut-wrenching business for so many people".
"It's about the most inaccessible spot that you can imagine on the face of the earth, but if there is anything down there, we will find it," he said.
Malaysia Airlines said the aircraft was carrying some lithium ion batteries, which are deemed "dangerous" cargo and can overheat and cause fires. But Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, the airlines head, said the batteries – used in laptops and mobile phones – were packed and carried in accordance with regulations and were unlikely to have posed a threat.
According to the cockpit transcripts, from the moment of sign-in at 12.36 – when the plane was still on the ground – Mr Hamid, a 27-year-old flying enthusiast, gave routine accounts of the plane's location, ascent and altitude. Though he took a slightly casual approach and at times departed from formal wording, nothing in his phrasing gives any sign that the plane was about to fly off course and disappear.