No luck on first day of search at ocean site for debris linked to flight MH370

The Malaysian Insider
March 20, 2014

After many hours involving aircraft from Australia, New Zealand and the United States, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa) has said it has ended its search efforts for the day for possible debris from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

Surveillance had scoured a remote and stormy section of the Indian Ocean for most of Thursday, looking for a pair of floating objects that Australia and Malaysia guardedly called a “credible” lead in the 12-day-old hunt for a missing passenger jet.

Australia said the objects – one was estimated at 24 metres across – were captured in satellite imagery, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the Malaysian plane’s mysterious disappearance as relatives of the 239 people aboard braced for another emotional roller-coaster.

Four search aircraft were dispatched from Australia – which has taken charge of the search in the southern Indian Ocean – to the area about 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth where the grainy images were snapped.

The planes – two from Australia, one from New Zealand and one US aircraft – covered an area of 23,000 sq km without any sighting before the search was suspended for the day, said Amsa.

Amsa has released a statement saying that it has ended its search efforts for the day. They will resume tomorrow morning.

It earlier reported cloudy, rainy conditions and limited visibility.

A Norwegian merchant ship reached the site as daylight waned, and another merchant ship was en route.

The Australian navy’s HMAS Success was also headed for the area, and Britain sent a naval survey ship, HMS Echo.

Clearly wary of raising hopes following a series of past false leads, Hishammuddin warned of delays in verifying the apparent debris.

‘Awash with water’

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew, vanished in the early hours of March 8 after veering drastically off course over the South China Sea while en route to Beijing.

Investigators believe it was deliberately diverted but still don’t know by whom, why, or where it ended up.

The satellite images, taken on Sunday, were first revealed earlier in the day by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The larger of the two was described as measuring 24 metres.

Abbott told parliament the images represented “new and credible information” but stressed that any link with flight MH370 had still to be confirmed.

“The indication to me is of objects that are of a reasonable size and probably awash with water and bobbing up and down over the surface,” top Amsa official John Young said.

The images are the first solid clue since the search area was significantly broadened last weekend to take in a vast part of the Indian Ocean.

Experts said the fact that Abbott himself had released the information lent weight to its credibility, but warned it could be difficult to find the objects in an isolated corner of the Earth noted for strong currents.

“The current there is one of the strongest in the world, moving at as fast as one metre per second,” said Gan Jianping, an oceanographer at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

HMAS Success, which is capable of retrieving any debris, is some days away from the site.

The objects would have drifted for four days, making them a “logistical nightmare” to locate, said Australian Defence Minister David Johnston.

“We are in a most isolated part of the world. In fact it probably doesn’t get, if I can be so bold, more isolated,” Johnston told Sky News Australia.

He was later quoted as saying it could take “two or three days” before any firm conclusions are made.

If debris is found, the new and challenging task will begin of finding the black box to help figure out what befell the plane.

Malaysia has asked the FBI to help recover data which it said was deleted from a home flight simulator belonging to the plane’s chief pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

Zaharie, a respected 33-year veteran of the airline, has come under suspicion since investigators concluded the plane’s communication systems were disabled manually before it changed course.

US President Barack Obama, who is due to visit Malaysia next month, said on Wednesday he wanted anguished relatives to know Washington considers solving the riddle a “top priority”.

The search for the Malaysian jet is the longest in modern passenger-airline history. The previous record was the 10-day search for a Boeing 737-400 operated by Indonesia’s PT Adam Skyconnection Airlines, which went missing off the coast of that country’s Sulawesi island January 1, 2007. – AFP, March 20, 2014.

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