29 March 2014
A Chinese ship is steaming towards a search area in the southern Indian Ocean after one of the country’s military aircraft spotted three suspicious objects that could be related to the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.
China’s state news agency Xinhua reported that the Chinese military plane Ilyushin IL-76 had sighted three white, red and orange floating objects from an altitude of 300m on Saturday.
The Australian Maritime and Safety Authority (AMSA), which is coordinating the search, said late on Friday that five international aircraft had spotted “multiple objects of various colours”.
Among them was a New Zealand air force plane, which had spotted “objects” that could be related to Flight MH370.
The sightings had to be confirmed by ship, which was not expected to reach the area until Saturday, AMSA said.
The search operation had moved 1,100km north on Friday after AMSA received new information from Malaysia that suggested the plane had run out of fuel earlier than thought.
The shift followed analysis of radar and satellite data that showed the missing plane had travelled faster than had been previously calculated, and so would have burned through its fuel load quicker.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished from civilian radar screens less than an hour into a Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight.
Malaysia says the plane was likely diverted deliberately but investigators have turned up no apparent motive or other red flags among the 227 passengers or the 12 crew on board.
Malaysian officials said the new search area was the result of a painstaking analysis of Malaysian military radar data and satellite readings from British company Inmarsat carried out by US, Chinese, British and Malaysian investigators.
Engine performance analysis by the plane’s manufacturer Boeing helped investigators determine how long the plane could have flown before it ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean, they said.
“Information which had already been examined by the investigation was re-examined in light of new evidence drawn from the Inmarsat data analysis,” Malaysia’s acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a news conference on Friday.
For more than a week, ships and surveillance planes have been scouring seas 2,500km southwest of Perth, where satellite images had shown possible debris from Flight MH370, which went missing on March 8.
Ten aircraft searching on Friday were immediately re-directed to the new area of 319,000sqkm, roughly the size of Poland, around 1,850km west of Perth.
The Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation was also redirecting satellites there, AMSA said.