Home » Latest World News » New satellite images ‘most credible’ of missing plane

missing-planKUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — New satellite images taken in recent days show more than 100 objects — some as long as 75 feet — that may have come from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Wednesday.

The images, which Hishammuddin called the “most credible” lead so far in the search for the vanished Boeing 777 airliner, revealed items in the water nearly 1,600 miles from Perth, Australia. The images, taken on Sunday, were provided by France’s Airbus Defence and Space company.

France gave Malaysian authorities the new information Tuesday, and an analysis by Malaysia’s remote sensing agency identified 122 objects. The Malaysian government said it has since shared the information with the Australian authorities leading the search in the southern Indian Ocean.

missing-plan-7“We cannot tell whether the potential objects are from MH370,” Hishammuddin said. “Nevertheless, this is another new lead that will help direct the search operation.”

The images mark the fourth set of data from satellites showing objects that may have come from the plane drifting in the remote waters of the southern Indian Ocean.

A new surge of planes and ships arrived to assist in the growing hunt for the missing aircraft, which local government officials say went down in the southern Indian Ocean with 239 people on board on March 8, far off its planned flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Low-flying planes spotted potential debris as recently as two days ago, but the search had to be put on hold Tuesday because of bad weather.

missing-plan-5Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday that searchers have been able to see a “considerable” number of objects. “Bad weather and inaccessibility has so far prevented any of it being recovered, but we are confident that some will be,” he said.

Aircraft and ships from six countries — Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Japan, China and South Korea — tried to cover a nearly 50,000-square-mile area on Wednesday. The hurdles remain daunting. The area is a four-hour flight from Perth, the base of the Australian-led search. Because of fuel constraints, planes have only two to four hours to look before having to turn back.

Seven planes were flying in the area Wednesday, with four more on the way, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. After a number of days when only the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Success was available to follow up on any sightings in the sprawling area, four Chinese ships have now arrived to join the hunt.

missing-plan-3Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced Monday night that a new analysis of satellite data showed that the plane’s voyage ended somewhere in the remote reaches of the Indian Ocean, dashing hopes that passengers and crew members survived. But physical confirmation — actual debris from the plane — has been elusive.

Over the last week, there have been various satellite images showing large blurry items. Observers on low-flying planes have seen objects both large and small bobbing in the water. But these leads have been like mirages: spotted, only to disappear again.

2014-03-26T113021Z_01_ESU805_RTRIDSP_3_MALAYSIA-AIRLINES-kFH--606x404@wp.comThe sheer challenge of this stage in the search was apparent on Wednesday. Observers saw three objects in the area late in the day: two items that were likely rope, plus a blue object. When the planes flew overhead again to take a look, they could not relocate the objects.

In addition, the search area Wednesday included the location where satellites picked up signs of 122 objects. Yet aside from the three objects spotted briefly, there were no other sightings of debris.

In China, meanwhile, anger at the Malaysian government continued to swell, with celebrities vowing to boycott the country. Chinese on the Internet also wondered whether passengers from another country, such as the United States, would have been treated better.

An online Sina poll asked Chinese Internet users whether the incident would influence whether they would be likely to travel to Malaysia in the future. Out of more than 58,000 respondents as of Wednesday afternoon, 78 percent said it would, 18 percent said it made no difference, and 4 percent said they were not sure.

In Beijing on Tuesday, days of simmering anger exploded into full-blown outrage as relatives of Chinese passengers on the missing flight marched to the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing to demand answers.

missing-plan-4Fueling their rage was Malaysian officials’ statement late Monday that the plane went down in the Indian Ocean and that they assumed that none of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members survived. The flight manifest listed 153 passengers on the Beijing-bound flight as Chinese.

The rowdy crowd threw water bottles at the embassy, scuffled with police, and hurled criticism, questions and curses at officials inside. Although the crowd included many relatives, several people appeared to be Chinese government agents in plain clothes whose mission seemed to be not only to guide the protest but also to keep it under control. Some relatives said they thought authorities were giving them a way to release their anger for fear that it could turn back on the Chinese government.

Under pressure to provide more evidence of how they came to their conclusion that the plane went down, Malaysian officials on Tuesday released more information describing howthe British satellite company Inmarsat and the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch analyzed satellite data to conclude that Flight 370 had followed a southern route and, as Najib put it, “ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”

missing-plan-2At a news conference Tuesday, Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya declined to comment on the ongoing investigation into what caused the jet to veer off course.

“We do not know why,” he said. “We do not know how.”

The U.S. Navy dispatched more equipment to Australia on Tuesday. But like much of that already assembled in Perth as part of the international effort, the additional equipment will come into play only if the search area — almost three times the size of California — narrows sharply to a few dozen square miles of the ocean bottom.

NASA, whose satellites can spot objects as small as 50 feet, said it would target its satellites on the search area in the next few days.

The search area spans 469,407 square nautical miles of water roiled this week by high winds and heavy seas, which present a challenge to spotting any floating debris from the decks of ships or aircraft.

If debris is discovered and identified as coming from the missing plane, experts will set out to determine how far it has drifted since the airliner disappeared and identify a significantly smaller search area.

missing-plan-6The additional equipment sent by the Pentagon on Tuesday included a sonar device that can be towed underwater from a boat to scan for debris and listen for a “ping” from the plane’s black box, and an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) akin to an unmanned submarine.

The sonar is towed on a sled on a long tether that limits the towboat’s speed to less than three knots. The AUV — a Bluefin 21 — can move slightly faster. Three AUVs were used to search a 40-square-mile area of the Atlantic where an Air France airliner went down in 2009. That search took several months.

While sonar can pick up metal objects on the ocean floor, the ping sent out by the emergency beacon attached to the black box will fall silent in a matter of days. The battery that powers it has a life of 30 days, so it is expected to die by April 7. Its signal carries for no more than three miles.

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