• Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Chinese, Australian planes spot 'white and square' objects

BBC, AP
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force's P-3C Orion arrives to help with search operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at Royal Australian Air Force Pearce Base in Perth, Australia, Sunday. Photo: AP
Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force's P-3C Orion arrives to help with search operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at Royal Australian Air Force Pearce Base in Perth, Australia, Sunday. Photo: AP

An Australian plane spots two objects in the search for the missing Malaysian airliner and a naval boat is heading to the area to find them.

One object is circular and grey and the other rectangular and orange, Australian PM Tony Abbott said.

Meanwhile, a Chinese plane crew spotted a white, square-shaped object in an area identified by satellite imagery as containing possible debris from the missing Malaysian airliner, China's media said Monday, while the United States prepared to move a specialised device that can locate black boxes into the region.

Abbott said it was not known whether the objects were from flight MH370, and could be flotsam.

The objects could be recovered in the next few hours, Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.

The crew aboard an IL-76 plane sighted the object in the southern Indian Ocean search area today and reported the coordinates to the Australian command centre, which is coordinating the multinational search, as well as the Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon, which is en route to the area, Xinhua News Agency reported.

No further details were immediately given. Satellite images from Australia and China had earlier identified possible debris in the area that may be linked to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 on March 8 with 239 people aboard.

The US Pacific command said it was sending a black box locator in case a debris field is located. The Towed Pinger Locator, which is pulled behind a vessel at slow speeds, has highly sensitive listening capability so that if the wreck site is located, it can hear the black box pinger down to a depth of about 20,000 feet (6,100 metres), Cmdr Chris Budde, a US Seventh Fleet operations officer, said in a statement.

"This movement is simply a prudent effort to preposition equipment and trained personnel closer to the search area so that if debris is found we will be able to respond as quickly as possible since the battery life of the black box's pinger is limited," Budde said.

There was no sign the move was because of any break in the mystery of the plane that went missing March 8 with 239 people on board, but rather as a preparation.

The Chinese plane was one of two Ilyushins that joined the search today from Perth, increasing the number of aircraft to 10 from eight a day earlier.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority's rescue coordination centre said the weather in the area, about 2,500 kilometres (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, was expected to deteriorate with rain likely.

Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss said "nothing of note" was found yesterday, which he described as a "fruitless day".

"It's going to be a challenge, but we'll stick at it," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio before the first aircraft left Perth at dawn. "We're just, I guess, clutching at whatever little piece of information comes along to try and find a place where we might be able to concentrate the efforts."

A cyclone bearing down on the Australian northwest coast "could stir up less favourable weather," he said.

Flight 370 while en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, setting off a multinational search that has turned up no confirmed pieces and nothing conclusive on what happened to the jet.

The latest French satellite data came to light on Sunday as Australian authorities coordinating the search sent planes and a ship to try to locate a wooden pallet that appeared to be surrounded by straps of different lengths and colours.

The French data came after Australian and Chinese satellites earlier identified suspect objects.

The pallet was spotted on Saturday from a search plane, but the spotters were unable to take photos of it.

Wooden pallets are most commonly used by ships but are also used airplane cargo holds, and an official with Malaysia Airlines said Sunday night that the flight was, in fact, carrying wooden pallets. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with company policy.

In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said in an interview with The Associated Press that the satellite radar echoes "identified some debris that could be from the Malaysian Airlines plane."

The spokesman said that these echoes "are not images with a definition like a photograph, but they do allow us to identify the nature of an object and to localise it."

Gathering satellite echo data involves sending a beam of energy to the Earth and then analyzing it when it bounces back, according to Joseph Bermudez Jr, chief analytics officer at AllSource Analysis, a commercial satellite intelligence firm.

Satellite radar echoes can be converted into an image that would look similar to a black-and-white photo, though not as clear, he said. "You'd have to know what you're looking at," Bermudez said.

A Malaysian official involved in the search said the French data located objects about 930 kilometres (575 miles) north of the spots where the objects in the images released by Australia and China were located.

One of the objects located was estimated to be about the same size as an object captured Tuesday by the Chinese satellite that appeared to be 22 meters (72 feet) by 13 meters (43 feet), said the official, who declined to be identified because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

US underwater wreck hunter David Mearns today described the French satellite sighting of potential debris as a "positive development," although he was unaware of the full details.

Mearns was an adviser to British and French search authorities following the loss of Air France Flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean during a flight from Brazil to Paris in 2009.

He warned that time was running out to find confirmed wreckage that could lead searchers back to the aircraft's black box.

The southern Indian Ocean is thought to be a potential area to find the jet because Malaysian authorities have said pings sent by the Boeing 777-200 for several hours after it disappeared indicated that the plane ended up in one of two huge arcs: a northern corridor stretching from Malaysia to Central Asia, or a southern corridor that stretches toward Antarctica.

Malaysian authorities have not ruled out any possible explanation for what happened to the jet, but have said the evidence so far suggests it was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca, with its communications systems disabled. They are unsure what happened next.

Authorities are considering the possibilities of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.

In the US, Tony Blinken, President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, said on CNN: "There is no prevailing theory."

"Publicly or privately, we don't know," he said. "We're chasing down every theory."

Published: 12:02 am Monday, March 24, 2014

Last modified: 9:04 pm Monday, March 24, 2014

TAGS: Australia Indian Ocean MH370 Missing MH370 Missing Malaysia Airlines plane

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