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'More than 300' objects spotted in search for Malaysian jet

© AFP

Latest update : 2014-03-27

Search operations for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 were again halted due to bad weather on Thursday as new Thai satellite images showed what could be "more than 300" objects.

Thai authorities said Thursday that satellites had spotted hundreds of new objects within the search area.

"We detected floating objects, perhaps more than 300," Anond Snidvongs, the head of Thailand's space technology development agency, told Reuters. But he emphasised that it remained unclear whether the objects were related to the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight.

The objects ranged in size from about 2 metres (6 feet) to 16 metres and were located 2,700 kilometres (1,675 miles) southwest of Perth, Anond said. The objects, which were spotted on Monday but took two days to process, lie about 200 kilometres southwest of the area where earlier satellite images showed 122 objects in the southern Indian Ocean.

The search team was forced to turn back as they made their way Thursday to a 400-sq-km (155-sq-mile) area of water where Chinese, French and Australian satellites had picked up earlier images of objects floating in the water.

“The forecast in the area was calling for severe icing, severe turbulence and near zero visibility,” said Lieutenant Commander Adam Schantz, the officer in charge of the US Navy Poseidon P8 maritime surveillance aircraft detachment. “Anybody who’s out there is coming home and all additional sorties from here are cancelled.”

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the operation, confirmed flights had been cancelled and ships were leaving the search area due to the weather.

Logistical challenge

Flight MH370 vanished from radar screens on March 8 shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing. The Boeing 777, which was carrying 239 people, is believed to have flown thousands of miles off course before plunging into the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.

While investigators believe that someone on the flight may have shut off the plane’s communications systems, theories on the plane’s disappearance range from a hijacking to sabotage or a possible suicide by one of the pilots. Technical problems have not been ruled out either.

Partial military radar tracking showed the plane turning west off its scheduled course over the South China Sea and then recrossing the Malay Peninsula, apparently under the control of a skilled pilot.

The logistical difficulties of the search have been highlighted by the failure so far to get a lock on possible debris, despite the now numerous satellite images and direct visual sightings from aircraft and ships.

The search area, some 2,500 km (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, has some of the deepest and roughest waters in the world, roiled by the “Roaring Forties” winds that cut across the sea.

The winds are named for the area between latitude 40 degrees and 50 degrees, where there is no land mass to slow down gusts that create huge waves.

One day had already been lost earlier this week because conditions were too dangerous for the search crews, which come from Australia, the United States, New Zealand, China, Japan and South Korea.

Relatives distraught

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak this week confirmed Flight MH370 had crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, citing satellite-data analysis of the plane’s flight path by British firm Inmarsat.

Recovery of wreckage could unlock clues about why and how the plane had diverted so far off course in one of aviation’s most puzzling mysteries.

The United States has sent an undersea Navy drone and a high-tech black box detector which will be fitted to an Australian ship due in Perth in the coming days.

The so-called black boxes - the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder - document what happens during flight, but time is running out to pick up their locator beacons, which stop about a month after a crash due to limited battery life.

The protracted and so far unsuccessful search and investigation have taken a toll, with dozens of distraught relatives of Chinese passengers clashing with police in Beijing on Tuesday, accusing Malaysia of “delays and deception”.

The Malaysian government’s confused initial response to the plane’s disappearance and a perception of poor communications have enraged many relatives of the more than 150 Chinese passengers and have strained ties between Beijing and Kuala Lumpur.

The family of Paul Weeks, a New Zealander on board the Malaysia Airlines flight, said they had been angered by the way the airline has dealt with the families of passengers.

“The whole situation has been handled appallingly, incredible insensitivity, lack of information,” Weeks’ sister Sara Weeks, told Radio Live in New Zealand.

She said her sister-in-law never received a phone call from the airline, only a text message, to say that her husband was presumed dead.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-03-27

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