Search planes fail to find Malaysia jet debris

2014-03-21 10:54

Kuala Lumpur – Planes sent to find objects in the south Indian Ocean that may be from the missing Malaysia Airlines jet began returning without success today, and an Australian official said the hunt would be extended again for another day.

The planes are part of an international effort to solve the nearly two-week-old aviation mystery by locating two large objects a satellite detected floating off the southwest coast of Australia.

The area in the southern Indian Ocean is so remote it takes aircraft four hours to fly there and four hours back, and leaves them only about two hours to search.

The satellite discovery raised new hope of finding the vanished jet and sent another emotional jolt to the families of the 239 people on board.

But like the first day of searching yesterday, efforts so far have been fruitless, said John Young, manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s emergency response division.

“Although this search area is much smaller than we started with, it nonetheless is a big area when you’re looking out the window and trying to see something by eye,” Young said.

“So we may have to do this a few times to be confident about the coverage of that search area,” he said.

Five planes were sent out, he said.

Young said that although the weather improved, there was still some low cloud cover over the search area. Given that radar did not pick up anything, searchers were using their eyes instead of equipment to try and spot the objects, forcing the planes to fly very low over the water.

The planes are planning to be back out in the search zone tomorrow, but the search area will change slightly depending on water movements overnight, Young said.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority officials are also looking to see if there is any new satellite imagery that can help provide searchers with new or more information, he said.

Speaking at a news conference in Papua New Guinea, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: “We’ve been throwing everything we’ve got at that area to try to learn more about what this debris might be.”

He said that the objects “could just be a container that’s fallen off a ship – we just don’t know”.

Abbott spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he described as “devastated”. Of the 227 passengers on the missing flight, 154 were from China.

“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. We owe it to the families of those people to do no less,” Abbott said.

The development also marked a new phase for the anguished relatives of the passengers, who have been critical of Malaysian officials for what the relatives say has been the slow release of information.

The Norwegian cargo vessel Hoegh St Petersburg is also in the area and its crew of 20 Filipinos is helping with the search. The ship, which transports cars, was on its way from South Africa to Australia, he said.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said another commercial ship and an Australian navy vessel were also en route to the search area.

Three Chinese naval ships were heading to the area, along with the icebreaker Snow Dragon, China’s state TV channel reported. The icebreaker was in Perth after a voyage to Antarctica in January, but it wasn’t clear when the other ships would get there.

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, and that its communications system had been disabled. They are unsure what happened next.

Police are considering the possibility of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or anyone else on board.

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