Wednesday 22 October 2014

Search for Malaysia plane cut short

Published 27/03/2014 | 04:12

Flt Lt Russell Adams looks out from the cockpit of a Royal Australian Air Force Orion during a search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (AP)
China's vice-foreign minister Zhang Yesui, centre, arrives to meet relatives of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 at the Hotel Bangi-Putrajaya in Bangi, Malaysia (AP)
Relatives of Chinese passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, walk inside a hotel in Bangi, Malaysia (AP)

Planes and ships searching for debris suspected of being from the missing Malaysian airliner have failed to find any before bad weather cut their hunt short.

The delay came as Thailand said one of its satellites had spotted hundreds of objects in the area.

The Thai satellite spotted the objects floating in the southern Indian Ocean near an area where planes and ships have been hunting unsuccessfully for a week for any sign of debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people aboard.

The images from the Thai satellite showed "300 objects of various sizes" in the ocean, about 2,700 kilometres (1,675 miles) south west of Perth, said Anond Snidvongs, director of Thailand's space technology development agency.

He said the images, taken on Monday by the Thaichote satellite, took two days to process and were relayed to Malaysian authorities yesterday.

The objects were about 200 kilometres (125 miles) from the area where a French satellite on Sunday spotted 122 objects, and ranged in size from two metres (six feet) to 16 metres (53 feet) long, Mr Anond said.

The announcement came after the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said it had to pull back all 11 planes scheduled to take part in the search today because of heavy rain, winds and low clouds. Five ships continued the hunt.

All but three of the planes - a US Navy P-8 Poseidon, a Japanese P-3 Orion and a Japanese Gulfstream jet - reached the search zone, about 2,500 kilometres (1,550 miles) south west of Perth, before the air search was suspended, AMSA spokesman Sam Cardwell said.

They were there "maybe two hours" and they did not find anything, Mr Cardwell said.

"They got a bit of time in, but it was not useful because there was no visibility," he said.

In a message on its Twitter account, AMSA said the bad weather was expected to last 24 hours.

Planes have been flying out of Perth for a week, looking without any success for objects spotted in vague satellite images, including the French one.

Finding them would give physical confirmation that Flight 370, which was scheduled to fly from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, crashed. That would allow searchers to narrow the hunt for the wreckage of the Boeing 777 and its black boxes, which could solve the mystery of why the jet was so far off-course.

Malaysian officials said earlier this week that satellite data confirmed the plane crashed into the southern Indian Ocean. Malaysia Airlines ran a full-page condolence advertisement with a black background in a major newspaper.

"Our sincerest condolences go out to the loved ones of the 239 passengers, friends and colleagues. Words alone cannot express our enormous sorrow and pain," read the advertisement in the New Straits Times.

The 122 objects captured by the French satellite ranged in size from one meter (3 feet) to 23 meters (75 feet) long, but the search for them and the objects from the Thai satellite will have to wait until the weather in the search area improves, echoing the frustration of earlier sweeps that failed to zero in on three objects spotted by satellites.

Experts cautioned that the area's frequent high seas and bad weather and its distance from land were complicating an already difficult search.

"This is a really rough piece of ocean, which is going to be a terrific issue," said Kerry Sieh, director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore. "I worry that people carrying out the rescue mission are going to get into trouble."

Malaysia has been criticised over its handling of one of the most perplexing mysteries in aviation history. Much of the most strident criticism has come from relatives of the Chinese passengers, some of whom expressed outrage that Malaysia essentially declared their loved ones dead without recovering a single piece of wreckage.

Press Association

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