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Asia-pacific

US mulls Malaysia request for undersea surveillance in search for MH370

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-22

The Pentagon said Friday that it was considering a request from Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein to provide undersea surveillance equipment to help in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

The Malaysian defence chief made the request in a telephone call with Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, the Pentagon said in a statement.

Hagel said he would "assess the availability and utility of military undersea technology for such a task and provide him an update in the very near future," the statement added.

Meanwhile, spotter planes spent a second fruitless day scouring a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean for wreckage from the Malaysian jet, which went missing a full two weeks ago, as Australia promised its best efforts to resolve “an extraordinary riddle.''

“It's about the most inaccessible spot that you could imagine on the face of the Earth, but if there is anything down there, we will find it,'' Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at a news conference in Papua New Guinea.

Isolated search area

Australian and US military aircraft usually used for anti-submarine operations criss-crossed the isolated search area 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth, looking for two floating objects that had shown up on grainy satellite photos taken several days before.

Although the images were too indistinct to confirm as debris from Flight MH370, Australian and Malaysian officials said they represented the most "credible" leads to date in the hunt for the plane and its 239 passengers and crew.

Friday's search concluded "without any sightings", the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said in a statement.

“We have re-planned the search to be visual. So aircraft flying relatively low, very highly skilled and trained observers looking out of the aircraft windows and looking to see objects,'' said AMSA official John Young.

The aerial contingent comprised three Australian air force P-3 Orions, a US Navy P-8 Poseidon and a civil Bombardier Global Express jet.

The distance from the west coast of Australia allows the planes only about two hours of actual search time before they must turn around with enough fuel to get back to Perth.

Defence Minister Hussein said searchers were facing the "long haul" but were conscious that the clock was ticking. The plane's "black box" voice and data recorder only transmits an electronic signal for about 30 days before its battery dies, after which it will be far more difficult to locate.

Investigators suspect the Boeing 777, which took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing shortly after midnight on March 8, was deliberately diverted thousands of miles from its scheduled path. They say they are focusing on hijacking or sabotage but have not ruled out technical problems.

Speculation and false leads

For families of the passengers, the process has proved to be an emotionally wrenching battle to elicit information, their angst fuelled by a steady stream of speculation and false leads.

In a Beijing hotel where the bulk of Chinese families have been awaiting information, the deadlock prompted rage over perceived Malaysian incompetence.

And for many, hope was slipping away, said Nan Jinyan, sister-in-law of passenger Yan Ling.

"I'm psychologically prepared for the worst and I know the chances of them coming back alive are extremely small,'" said Nan, one of dozens of relatives awaiting any word about their loved ones.

For a handful of Chinese families who chose to be flown to Kuala Lumpur to be closer to the heart of search operations, the flow of information has been no more fluid.

"Tonight all the government could give us was old information. But of course we, the families, want to hear new updates," Malaysian Hamid Ramlat, the father of a passenger, told reporters after emerging from a briefing on Thursday night.

Some experts have argued that the reluctance to share sensitive radar data and capabilities in a region fraught with suspicion amid China's military rise and territorial disputes may have hampered the search.

Two people familiar with the investigation said the search had been slowed in some cases by delays over the paperwork needed to allow foreign maritime surveillance aircraft into territorial waters without a formal diplomatic request.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP, AP)

Where is MH370?

Date created : 2014-03-21

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