Malaysia flight MH370: New data 'shows possible debris'

The search teams look away from the ocean only occasionally to rest their eyes, as Jonathan Head reports

New data from a French satellite shows potential debris from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean, France's foreign ministry says.

Radar echoes had picked up several objects about 2,300km (1,430 miles) from Perth, a statement added.

It is the third possible sighting in the area off western Australia that has become the focus of the search effort.

Flight MH370 disappeared on 8 March while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with 239 people on board.

Malaysian officials believe the plane was deliberately taken off course.

Based on information received from a satellite, the search has been in two distinct corridors - one stretching to the north-west of the last known location in the Malacca Straits and one to the south-west.

bbc map

However, none of the countries on the northern corridor have reported any radar contact, and the satellite images of possible debris in the south Indian Ocean have concentrated the search there.

'No sightings'

On Sunday, a statement published on the Malaysian ministry of transport's Facebook page said: "This morning, Malaysia received new satellite images from the French authorities showing potential objects in the vicinity of the southern corridor.

Search planes involved

  • Australia: Two P-3 Orions; two Bombardier Global Express; one Gulfstream 5; one Airbus 319
  • China: Two IL-76 jets (not yet deployed)
  • Japan: Two P-3 Orions (not yet deployed)
  • New Zealand: One P-3 Orion
  • US: One P-8 Poseidon

"Malaysia immediately relayed these images to the Australian rescue co-ordination centre."

An unnamed Malaysian official told the Associated Press that the new satellite image was taken on Friday, and that one of the potential objects was estimated to be about the same size as one spotted by a Chinese satellite that appeared to be 22m (72ft) by 13m (43ft).

The possible debris was located about 930km (575 miles) north of where the objects reported by China and Australia over the past week, the official added.

A French foreign ministry statement said the objects were about 2,300km from Perth, but did not give a direction or say when the discovery was made.

It also clarified that the French authorities had passed on data in the form of "satellite-generated radar echoes" rather than images. Radar works by sending out radio waves or microwaves and listening for echoes that bounce back.

"France has decided to mobilise complementary satellite means to continue the search in the identified zone," the ministry statement added.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa) subsequently announced that that the search operation in the southern Indian Ocean had concluded for the day.

HMAS Success Capt Allison Norris, 23 March HMAS Success, under Capt Allison Norris, is the only ship so far in the search zone
Japanese defence ministry employee looks at a Japanese air force P-3C Orion at RAAF Base Pearce (23 March 2014) Japanese P-3C Orion aircraft arrived at RAAF Base Pearce on Sunday to assist in the search
Relatives in Beijing, 23 March The anxious wait continues for relatives in Beijing
Origami cranes containing prayers and messages for those on board flight MH370 hanging from a wall at a shopping centre in Bangsar, Malaysia (23 March 2014) Origami cranes, containing prayers and messages for those on flight MH370, in Bangsar, Malaysia

"There were no sightings of significance," a statement said. "The search area experienced early sea fog particularly in the western areas, however conditions improved during the day."

Amsa said the four military and four civilian aircraft involved in Sunday's search effort had covered a total of 59,000 sq km (22, 780 sq miles) south-west of Perth. Chinese military Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft and Japanese P-3C Orion aircraft would join the search on Monday, it added.

HMAS Success, an Australian navy supply ship, also took part in Sunday's operation.

A key focus on Sunday was the sighting on Saturday of a wooden cargo pallet, along with belts or straps.

Mike Barton, operations co-ordinator at Amsa, said: "Part of the description was a wooden pallet and a number of other items which were nondescript around it and some belts of some different colours around it as well, strapping belts of different lengths."

He added: "We tried to re-find that yesterday, one of the New Zealand aircraft, and unfortunately they didn't find it. That's the nature of it - you only have to be off by a few hundred metres in a fast-travelling aircraft."

Pallets are used for shipping as well as plane cargo and Mr Barton urged caution, saying the sighting "could be anything".

'I miss my son'

Earlier, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the sightings of objects were encouraging signs.

Australia PM Tony Abbott: "There is increasing hope that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen to this ill-fated aircraft"

"Obviously we have now had a number of very credible leads and there is increasing hope - no more than hope, no more than hope - that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen to this ill-fated aircraft," he said.

On Saturday, China released a satellite image showing an object floating in the southern Indian Ocean near to the area already being searched, some 2,500 km (1,550 miles) south-west of Perth.

The grainy image was released by China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.

The Xinhua state news agency said the image was taken at about 04:00 GMT on 18 March and showed objects about 120km "south by west" from the site of possible debris shown in another satellite image from 16 March.

Amsa image The Indian Ocean search was sparked by this satellite image taken on 16 March of an object 24m in size

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein put a message on his Twitter account on Sunday urging a "prayer please" for the passengers and crew on flight MH370.

Relatives and friends are still waiting anxiously for news in hotels in Beijing and Malaysia.

In the Everly Hotel in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Kamariah Sharif, the mother of missing passenger Mohamad Razahan Zamani, told Reuters: "Allah give me strength and guidance, I can't tell you how much I miss my son. This has gone on so long. I pray that he is safe."

In Beijing, Wang Zheng, whose father and mother were on the plane, told Associated Press: "I can't eat, I can't sleep. I've been dreaming of my parents every day."

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