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Objects may be from missing Malaysia Airlines jet

Objects may be from missing Malaysia Airlines jet


The air search for debris, possibly from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean, is being hampered by poor visibility.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority tonight said a flyover by a RAAF P3 was unable to locate any debris because of poor weather conditions.

“RAAF P3 crew unable to locate debris. Could & rain limited visibility. Further aircraft to continue search for MH370,’’ AMSA said on Twitter.

A task force of aircraft and ships has been sent to the southern Indian Ocean to determine if objects spotted by satellite are debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.

Satellites have spotted two objects as large as 24 metres long some 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth which while “relatively indistinct” are regarded as “credible’’ sightings, AMSA said.

“This is a lead, it is probably the best lead we have right now, but we need to go there, find them and assess them,’’ AMSA general manager John Young told reporters earlier today in Canberra, while cautioning the objects may not be from the aircraft.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished on March 8 after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur carrying 239 passengers and crew, including six Australians.

Australian aircraft have been scouring the Indian Ocean for signs of wreckage.

The plane’s disappearance has turned into one of aviation’s greatest mysteries.

Mr Young said four search aircraft from Australia, New Zealand and the United States had tonight been sent to the area to try to check the satellite sightings.

Another RAAF aircraft would follow to drop marker buoys to help monitor the drift of any debris.

A merchant ship was due in the area at 6pm (AEDT) tonight to try to take a closer look at any objects that may be found to determine if they are from the Malaysian plane, Mr Young said.

HMAS Success is en route to the area but is some days away. The ship is equipped to recover any objects located and proved to be from MH370.

Mr Young said weather conditions were moderate in the southern Indian Ocean where the search is taking place, but poor visibility could hamper air and satellite searches.

“The objects are relatively indistinct in the imagery. They are objects of a reasonable size and probably awash with water.

“The largest image I’ve seen is assessed as being 24 metres, another one is smaller than that.’’

Mr Young admitted the imagery “is not that precise’’.

He said all of AMSA’s available assets were being deployed to examine the wreckage.

“We have four aircraft out there this afternoon, the weather is not playing the game with us.

“We may get a sighting, we may not.

“It may be tomorrow, it may not. We will continue to do this until we locate these objects or we are convinced we cannot (locate them),’’ Mr Young said.

Mr Young said the ocean in the area was thousands of metres deep.

“AMSA is doing its level best to find anyone that might have survived,’’ he said, when asked what advice he had for families of the 239 people who were on the missing flight.

He said AMSA continued to hold grave concerns for the passengers and crew.

A US Navy Poseidon was expected to arrive at 3pm (AEDT), with a second RAAF Orion expected to depart RAAF Base Pearce near Perth at 6pm (AEDT). A New Zealand Orion was due to depart at 8pm.

A RAAF C-130 Hercules aircraft has been tasked to drop marker buoys if any objects are found.

It is unclear which nation’s satellite spotted the suspected wreckage.

Australia has asked other countries to dispatch planes to assist in the search, including China.

Malaysia said the two objects spotted gave reason for hope of a resolution to its missing plane crisis, but stressed the need to verify the claim.

“We have been very consistent. We want to verify, we want to corroborate,’’ Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where he is overseeing an international search effort.

The search has been dogged by previous false leads, including Chinese satellite images of suspected debris published earlier which turned out to be a red herring.

Mr Hishammuddin warned it may take some time before the Australian find could be verified.

“Aircraft and vessels are going there, you know how huge the area is,’’ he said.

Initial news of the potential breakthrough came in parliament, where Tony Abbott said he had called Malaysian leader Najib Razak to relay the “new and credible information’’ about potential aircraft wreckage in the southern Indian Ocean.

“We must keep in mind the task of locating these objects will be extremely difficult and it may turn out that they are not related to the search for flight MH370,’’ the Prime Minister told parliament.

He told parliament: “The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has received the information based on satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search. Following specialist analysis of this satellite imagery, two possible objects related to the search have been identified.

“A Royal Australian Air Force Orion has been diverted in an attempt to locate the objects. This Orion is expected to arrive in the area about this time.

“Three more aircraft will follow this Orion. They are tasked for more intensive follow up search.’’

Sources familiar with the find described the wreckage sightings as “very credible’’.

The source did not go into specifics, but said the initial sightings had detected debris consistent with “what you’d normally find in such circumstances’’.

The massive search for the plane took on a new intensity last weekend when Malaysia said it believed the Boeing 777 had been deliberately diverted from its intended route by someone on board and its communications turned off.

Satellite data indicated the plane had flown on for several hours along one of two possible paths south over the Indian Ocean to the west of Australia, or north towards Central Asia.

Most analysts had favoured the maritime southern corridor, pointing out the unlikelihood of the airliner passing undetected over nearly a dozen countries.

The search has been hampered by the reluctance of some countries to share sensitive radar and satellite data, and to allow surveillance planes into their airspace.

In latest developments today, the FBI was asked to help recover data deleted from a flight simulator in the home of the missing plane’s chief pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

SEARCH: FBI analyses pilot simulator

While the plane’s fate has remained a mystery for the past 12 days, a number of theories have been proposed.

These include malicious pilot action; a terrorist hijacking; a sudden catastrophe such as a bomb; an electrical fire knocking out communications; decompression leading to hypoxia and incapacitation of everyone on board; the plane being stolen and hidden; or the jet being accidentally shot down.

THE CURRENT THEORIES

MALICIOUS PILOT ACTION: Investigators have been looking at Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, who has been flying for Malaysia Airlines since 1981 and copilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, who just started flying a 777. Zaharie had built his own flight simulator at home. Investigators including the FBI are now trying to restore files deleted from that simulator.

The plane’s transponder stopped signalling its location to air-traffic controllers and other planes at the perfect moment: the hand-off from Malaysia’s controllers to those in Vietnam. In the final radio contact from the plane, the copilot told Malaysian controllers “All right, good night.” Vietnamese controllers were never contacted and the transponder shut off. The plane abruptly turned and then kept flying for up to seven hours. The way several key communication and tracking devices in the cockpit were disabled — at different times — also places suspicion on the pilots.

TERRORIST HIJACKING: This theory was prominent after it was discovered that two Iranians on board — one 18, the other 28 — were travelling on stolen passports. Investigators haven’t found anything linking either to terror groups; it is believed they were trying to illegally immigrate to Europe. Ever since 9/11, it’s much harder for an unauthorised person to enter the cockpit. Cockpit doors have been reinforced and procedures have been put in place to ensure nobody gains entry when a pilot exits. And passengers and crew have shown a willingness to confront anyone trying to take over or damage a plane.

SUDDEN CATASTROPHE: Aviation experts initially suspected something sudden and horrific happened. Perhaps a bomb on board, or some type of failure with the engines or airframe. But if that were the case, debris would have been found in the spot where the transponder went off. If there was a sudden breakup, pieces of the plane would have been visible on radar.

FIRE: An electrical fire, or perhaps a fire from hazardous cargo, could have knocked out communications equipment and prevented crew members and passengers from calling for help. Some people have speculated that smoke incapacitated the pilots. It’s possible, but flight attendants and passengers would have had time to try to enter the cockpit and take control of the plane.

DECOMPRESSION: A slow or sudden decompression, causing a loss of oxygen, could have killed everyone on board. If oxygen levels dropped, a loud, automated warning would have alerted the pilots to put on their oxygen masks and immediately descend below 10,000 feet, where there is enough oxygen to breathe without aid.

If the plane depressurised and killed its occupants, that would explain the silence. But aviation experts say the plane should have kept flying automatically towards Beijing and been visible on radar.

HIDDEN PLANE: It’s possible somebody landed the plane at some remote airport and is hiding it from the world. But a very skilled pilot would have to land the plane at a small airport that normally doesn’t accommodate 777s. They might have had to land in the dark, without normal navigation aids to assist. And they would have to dodge several nations’ radar systems.

ACCIDENTAL SHOOT-DOWN: Civilian aircraft have been unintentionally shot down by a country’s military. In July 1988, the United States Navy missile cruiser USS Vincennes accidentally shot down an Iran Air flight, killing all 290 passengers and crew. In September 1983, a Korean Air Lines flight was shot down by a Russian fighter jet. There is no evidence that Flight 370 was brought down by a government entity.
ends

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