France provides satellite data about possible MH370 debris

France today provided satellite data about objects that could be debris from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The French authorities sent the data to Malaysia this morning and Malaysia immediately relayed it to the Australian rescue co-ordination centre.

This follows the release of satellite imagery by China yesterday, and by Australia last Thursday.

The Malaysians say the new information relates to “potential objects in the vicinity of the southern corridor”.

Malaysia’s transport ministry initially said the latest data came in the form of images, but the French foreign ministry later provided clarification, saying the data was in the form of “satellite-generated radar echoes”. The debris was said to be floating about 2,300 kilometres from Perth on Australia’s west coast.

With three countries having spotted possible debris, weight has been added to the belief that there could be MH370 wreckage in the southern Indian Ocean.

There are experts, however, that say that such large objects as wing sections of a plane would sink.

Also, this area of the ocean has a lot of debris floating around, so the images spotted on satellite could be completely unrelated to the missing plane.

On the fourth day of the search in the area pinpointed by the Australian and Chinese satellite images, the only visual sighting has been of a wooden cargo pallet along with belts or straps.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said eight aircraft and the Australian navy vessel Success were involved in today’s search in an area measuring 59,000 nautical square kilometres.

“The western boundary of the current search area is located 2,500 kilometres from Perth,” the authority said in a statement. “Four civil ultra long-range jets chartered by AMSA and four military aircraft from Australia and the US were involved in today’s search, together with the HMAS Success.

The search is in an extremely remote area, with strong currents and rough seas.

The object spotted by a Chinese satellite on March 18 was 2.5 metres long and 13 metres wide and is reported to have been seen about 2,630 kilometres southwest of Perth.

This sighting came two days after Australian satellite imagery showed two floating objects about 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth.

The object sighted by the Chinese was about 120 kilometres southwest of the two objects spotted by the Australian satellite on March 16. One of those objects was said to be about 24 metres long and the other five metres.

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Chinese and Japanese aircraft join search

Malaysia’s acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said today that two Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 planes had arrived in Perth and would join the search and rescue operation tomorrow morning.

Two Japanese P-3 Orions left Malaysia’s Subang airport for Perth today.

The Australian defence vessel Ocean Shield, which is equipped with a remotely operated subsea vehicle, is en route to the southern corridor.

A number of sorties from Subang airport to the southern corridor were cancelled today because of tropical cyclone Gillian.

Operations continued, however, in the northern part of the southern corridor, where the search is being led by Indonesia. One Indian navy P-8 Poseidon and an Indian Air Force C-130 left Subang airport to join that operation.

It is satellite pings received from MH370 that led Malaysia to organise searches in two corridors, one stretching from northern Thailand to central Asia, and the other from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.

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Briefings for relatives

In Beijing today, a high-level Malaysian team gave a third briefing to relatives of those on board flight MH370. The briefing lasted more than six hours.

Chinese relatives have been pressuring Malaysia to issue more information more quickly. Some of them became so distraught and frustrated that they threatened to go on hunger strike.
The Malaysian authorities have said from the start of the search that they will not release information that has not been verified.

There have been tense scenes in Beijing during meetings with officials and emotions were high in Malaysia last Wednesday when relatives of Chinese passengers on board the missing plane came to the Sama-Sama airport hotel to protest about Malaysia’s handling of the plane’s disappearance. They tried to talk to journalists, but were dragged away by police.

The Malaysian authorities said they regretted the way the relatives were treated and were investigating what happened. They now seem to be going all-out to appease relatives and provide them with as much information as possible.

Concrete information is sparse, however, and the disappearance of MH370 remains a huge mystery. There continues to be a massive amount of speculation and theories ranging from the quite believable to the totally outlandish still abound.

Mr Hishammuddin said today that the last Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) transmission sent from flight MH370 at 1.07a.m. on March 8 showed nothing unusual. It showed a normal routing all the way to Beijing, he said.

The authorities are sure that the ACARS was disabled after its last transmission, but there is uncertainty about the exact time it was switched off. The switch off, they say, would have been between 1.07 and 1.37 a.m., the time that another transmission would have been expected.

They say the plane’s transponder was switched off later. (It stopped sending radar information at 1.21 a.m.)

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In a tweet this morning, Mr Hishammuddin asked those praying in churches around the country to say a prayer for the MH370 passengers and crew and their families. All communities have been holding special prayer sessions and there have been many multi-faith vigils.

Hundreds of people joined a “bicycle ride for prayer” in Kuala Lumpur today. Their bikes decorated with small Malaysian flags and “Pray for MH370” stickers, they rode to the international airport, then prayed for those on board the missing plane and their relatives.

Flight MH370 disappeared on March 8; it was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew.

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AP image by Joshua Paul.