A Chinese satellite has detected a floating object in the southern Indian Ocean that could be debris from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
The object is 22.5 metres long and 13 metres wide and is reported to have been sighted about 2,630 kilometres southwest of Perth on Australia’s west coast.
The image was taken at midday on Tuesday March 18, two days after Australian satellite imagery showed two floating objects about 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth.
The new sighting is reported to be about 120 kilometres southwest of the two objects sighted by the Australian satellite on March 16. One of those objects was said to be about 24 metres long and the other five metres.
The Australian sighting sparked a huge international search in an area measuring about 10,500 square nautical miles.
China, which is using 21 satellites to try and find the plane, will be sending ships to verify this new sighting, but the Australians may be able to get to the area first.
Two Chinese reconnaissance aircraft are already at Pearce Air Base in Perth.
On the third day of the Australian-led search, six reconnaissance aircraft scoured the ocean, but saw nothing that could be debris from the missing plane.
Ships heading to the search zone are now having to pass through a category one tropical cyclone that has already hit Christmas Island. There are fears that Cyclone Gillian could come closer to the search zone.
Australia’s naval vessel HMS Success and two merchant ships are also involved in the search, which is being conducted in very rough waters up to 7,000 metres deep, where there are strong currents.
The British navy vessel HMS Echo is heading from the Persian Gulf to the southern search corridor. The ship is equipped with advanced sensors for underwater searching.
Malaysia’s acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, received a note about China’s sighting during today’s press conference and ended the briefing early to follow it up.
Trauma for families
Mr Hishammuddin said the past two weeks had been a roller coaster that had been incredibly hard for everyone, especially for the relatives of those on board the missing plane. He said he didn’t want to indicate when the search might end. “As long as there is hope we will continue with the search,” he said.
Australia’s deputy prime minister, Warren Truss, said the search in the southern Indian Ocean would continue indefinitely.
Mr Hishammuddin said the latest briefing for families in Malaysia went well, but the one in Beijing was less productive and there were tense scenes.
He has asked Malaysia’s foreign affairs ministry and the authorities in China to investigate what happened.
Malaysia, he said, was appealing to all parties to be understanding during these extraordinary and difficult times.
The transport minister gave a list of countries in the northern search corridor that say they have not picked up MH370 on radar in their territory.
“In response to diplomatic notes, we can confirm that China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Laos, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan have verbally informed the search and rescue operation that, based on preliminary analysis, there have been no sightings of the aircraft on their radar.”
The minister thanked the 26 countries helping in the search and said he wanted to pay a special tribute to the men and women of all countries who were putting themselves in harm’s way to try to find the plane.
“As we speak, people are sailing through a cyclone to help find the missing plane. We are immensely grateful to all our partners for their efforts.”
With the main focus being on the Australian-led operation in the southern Indian Ocean, little has been said in recent days about the police investigation into MH370’s disappearance.
Questions have been posed about the plane’s cargo, but Malaysia’s director-general of civil aviation, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said today that it all complied with international standards.
He said the cargo manifest for flight MH370 was still in the hands of the investigating team, and would not be released yet, but it hadn’t shown a link with anything that might have contributed to MH370’s disappearance.
Malaysia Airlines also said in a statement that that the lithium ion batteries carried on board the plane were being carried in compliance with the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the International Air Transport Association requirements. The IATA had classified the batteries as non- dangerous goods, the airline said.
Another document being scrutinised is the original record of the air traffic control communication with MH370. Mr Azharuddin said this document couldn’t be released yet either, but it didn’t indicate anything abnormal.
He said that a transcript of air traffic control communication with MH370 published in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper was inaccurate.
Asked about the cost of the search operation, Mr Hishammuddin said none of Malaysia’s partners had talked about dollars and cents. It was all about trying to find the aircraft, he said, and money hadn’t even crossed their minds.
Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared on March 8; it was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew.