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Asia-pacific

Search for missing plane moves to new zone after fresh debris spotted

© AFP

Video by Sanam SHANTYAEI

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-29

The air and sea search on Saturday expanded to a new zone of the southern Indian Ocean, looking for possible debris belonging to missing Malaysia flight MH370 after at least three new objects were spotted in the area.

China, which lost 153 people when the Boeing 777 went down, was at the forefront of the search across a vast ocean expanse about the size of Norway.

One of its ships – the Haixun 01 – began hunting at first light for multiple unidentified objects seen from the air the previous day. And a Chinese Air Force Ilyushin IL-76 was the first of eight aircraft to depart from an air base near the west Australian city of Perth.

China's state news agency said the plane crew had spotted three unidentified floating objects coloured white, red and orange. The Haixun 01 is trying to trace and retrieve them.

Australian authorities coordinating the operation moved the air and sea search 1,100 kilometres north on Friday after new analysis of radar and satellite data concluded that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 travelled faster and for a shorter distance after vanishing from civilian radar screens on March 8.

Five international aircraft spotted “multiple objects of various colours” in the new search area, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said on Saturday. Some looked like they were from fishing boats and nothing could be confirmed until they were recovered by ships, it added.

One Chinese ship was in the area while another five Chinese vessels and one from Australia were on the way but would not arrive until late in the day.

“We are trying to find small bits of wreckage in a vast ocean, and while we are throwing everything at this, the search goes on,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters in Sydney.

Malaysia says the Boeing 777, which vanished less than an hour into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was likely diverted deliberately but investigators have turned up no apparent motive or other red flags among the 227 passengers or the 12 crew.

US officials close to the investigation said the FBI found nothing illuminating in data it had received from computer equipment used by MH370’s pilots, including a home-made flight simulator.

Search hampered by regional rivalries

The search has involved more than two dozen countries and 60 aircraft and ships but has been bedevilled by regional rivalries and an apparent reluctance to share potentially crucial information due to security concerns.

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.

“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.

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 thousands of miles off course, they said.

Flight Lieutenant Jamin Baker was on a New Zealand Airforce Orion which spotted several items and dropped a marker buoy in “an area of interest” on Friday.

“Obviously we don’t know if these (objects) are associated with the aircraft yet but it certainly looks like we are seeing a lot more debris and just general flotsam in the water, so we could be on to something here,” Baker said.

New search area ‘the size of Poland’

For more than a week, ships and surveillance planes had been scouring seas 2,500 km (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, where satellite images had shown possible debris from Flight MH370. That search zone has now been abandoned.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said the shift was based on analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca. At that time, the Boeing 777 was making a radical diversion west from its course.

Malaysia’s civil aviation chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said at Friday’s news conference he was “not at liberty” to give the exact path of the aircraft.

Officials close to the investigation told Reuters last week that the plane may have passed close to Port Blair, the capital of India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands, 550 miles (885 km) further northwest from where Malaysia has said its military radar last detected it.

At around 319,000 square kilometres – roughly the size of Poland – the new search area is larger, but closer to Perth, allowing aircraft to spend more time on site. It is also favourable in terms of the weather as it is out of the deep sea region known as the Roaring 40s for its huge seas and frequent storm-force winds.

Searchers have perhaps a week to find debris, calculate the likely crash area and find the aircraft’s voice and data “black boxes” before batteries showing their location run out.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
 

Date created : 2014-03-29

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