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Asia-pacific

Search operations for Malaysian plane redirected

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-28

Search operations for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 were redirected to an area 1,100 km (685 miles) to the north, after Australian authorities received new data regarding the plane’s speed.

Australian authorities said they had moved the search following further analysis of radar data of the Boeing 777 that showed it was travelling faster than previously believed and so would have run out of fuel quicker.

“We have moved on from those search areas to the newest credible lead,” John Young, general manager of the emergency response division of Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), told reporters, adding the previous search site was being abandoned.

The new search area is larger, but closer to the west coast Australian city Perth, which will allow aircraft searching for the missing plane to spend longer on site by shortening travel times. It is also vastly more favourable in terms of the weather as it is out of a remote, southern stretch of the Indian Ocean known for its frequent storm-force winds.

“I’m not sure that we’ll get perfect weather out there, but it’s likely to be better more often than what we’ve seen in the past,” Young said.

For over the past week, ships and surveillance planes from several different countries have been scouring the waters 2,500 km (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, where satellite images had suggested there could be debris from Flight MH370, which went missing on March 8 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur with 239 people aboard.

Ten aircraft searching on Friday were immediately re-directed to the new area of 319,000 sq km (123,000 sq miles), roughly the size of Poland, around 1,850 km (1,150 miles) west of Perth. The Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation was also redirecting satellites there, AMSA said.

A flotilla of Australian and Chinese ships would take longer to shift north, however, with the Australian naval ship the HMAS Success not due to arrive until Saturday morning.

The shift was based on analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said. ATSB Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan said radar and satellite polling data had been combined with information about the likely performance of the aircraft, speed and fuel consumption in particular, to arrive at the best assessment of the area in which the aircraft was likely to have entered the water.

An international investigative team continued to analyse the data, Dolan said, which “could result in further refinement of the potential flight path of MH370”.

Shifting searches

The revision of the search area comes less than a day after the latest reports of sightings of possible wreckage, captured by Thai and Japanese satellites in roughly the same frigid expanse of sea as earlier images reported by France, Australia and China.

Satellite images had shown suspected debris, including pieces as large as 24 metres (70 ft), within the original search area in the southern Indian Ocean.

Potential debris has also been seen from search aircraft, but none has been picked up or confirmed as the wreckage of Flight MH370, which disappeared from civilian radar screens less than an hour after taking off.

Officials believe someone on board may have shut off the plane’s communications systems before flying it thousands of miles off course, where it crashed into the ocean in one of the most isolated and forbidding regions on the planet.

Theories range from a hijacking to sabotage or a possible suicide by one of the pilots, but investigators have not ruled out technical problems.

David Brewster, a visiting fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, said it was surprising that the new data analysis was just coming to light.

“The Malaysians have never really had to handle a search and rescue operation of this nature before so it is maybe complicated by lack of experience,” Brewster said.

“There is no doubt they haven’t got their systems working smoothly in terms of sharing within Malaysian organisations or with neighbouring countries.”

Reinforcements

The US Navy said on Friday it was sending a second P8-Poseidon, its most advanced maritime surveillance aircraft, to help in the search.

“It’s critical to continue searching for debris so we can reverse-forecast the wind, current and sea state since March 8 to recreate the position where MH370 possibly went into the water,” said Commander Tom Moneymaker, a US 7th Fleet oceanographer.

The United States has also sent a device that can be towed behind a ship to pick up faint pings from the plane’s black box voice and data recorders, but time is running out.

“We’ve got to get this initial position right prior to deploying the Towed Pinger Locator since the MH370’s black box has a limited battery life and we can’t afford to lose time searching in the wrong area,” Moneymaker said.

The prolonged and so far unsuccessful search and investigation have taken a toll, with distraught relatives of many of the150 Chinese passengers clashing with police and accusing Malaysia of “delays and deception”.

Chinese insurance companies have started paying compensation to the families of passengers, some of the firms and state media said.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-03-28

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