New satellite images narrow MH370 search

Satellite images, provided to Malaysia by Airbus Defence and Space in France, show 122 potential objects in the southern Indian Ocean that could be wreckage from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane MH370.

The possible objects are not far from an earlier Chinese satellite sighting. They are spread over an area of  ocean measuring about 400 square kilometres, about 2,500 kilometres from Perth in western Australia.

Malaysia’s acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said some of the objects were a metre long and others were as much as 23 metres in length. Some, Mr Hishammuddin said, appeared to be bright, possibly indicating solid materials.

Airbus sent the images, which were taken on March 23, to the Malaysian Remote Sensing Agency (MRSA) yesterday. The MRSA analysed the images and identified the 122 potential objects. It then forwarded its findings to the Australian rescue co-ordination centre in Perth. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said the potential objects were within today’s search area.

Mr Hishammuddin said: “It must be emphasized that we cannot tell whether the potential objects are from MH370. Nevertheless, this is another new lead that will help direct the search operation.”

This is the fourth satellite lead, following an earlier sighting by the French and sightings by Australian and Chinese satellites.

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Search area narrows

The area being covered by the Australian-led search has now been divided up into two sectors, a western sector and an eastern one. The new sighting is in the western sector.

There is a lot of debris in that area of the ocean, but the new sighting does add weight to the conclusion announced by the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, on Monday that flight M370 went down in the southern Indian Ocean.

Many relatives of those on board the missing flight were distressed by Mr Najib’s announcement and say they won’t believe their loved-ones are lost until they see physical proof that the plane crashed.

With the search area being refined all the time, and the new sighting, it’s possible that they are now going to get that proof.

Deep-sea surveillance

The Malaysian authorities are already talking about the next phase of the search, which will begin if wreckage is found. This would be deep-sea surveillance to try and find the aircraft’s black box flight recorders.

The United States has provided high-tech resources, including a pinger locator – a torpedo-shaped device that is towed behind a ship. The device, which is now in Perth, has sophisticated acoustic equipment that can pick up the signals from a black box at up to 6,000 metres.

It now has to be fitted onto the Australian ship Ocean Shield, which is due to dock in Perth on March 28 and is expected to arrive in the search area on April 5.

This is getting very close to the 30-day usual battery life for a black box, although the recorders can transmit for up to 40 days.

The US has also provided a Bluefin-21, which is an autonomous underwater vehicle that can dive to about 4,500 metres and uses side-scan sonar to build up an accurate picture of the sea floor.

Search resumes

The Australian-led search operation resumed today after being halted yesterday because of bad weather.

Seven military and five civilian planes scoured the seas today. Six countries – Australia, New Zealand, the US, Japan, China, and South Korea – are now involved in the search operation.

Today, searchers on board a civil aircraft spotted two objects that were thought to be rope and searchers on board a New Zealand P-3 Orion spotted a blue object, but none of these objects could be located later.

In addition to the reconnaissance planes, there are now four Chinese ships in the search area, along with the Australian naval vessel HMAS Success.

Malaysians meet Chinese minister

Today, Mr Najib and Mr Hishammuddin met the Chinese vice-minister of foreign affairs, and Chinese government special envoy, Zhang Yesui.

China, Mr Hishammuddin said, had committed to intensifying its search and deploying any resources required.

Inmarsat, Britain’s Air Accident Investigation Bureau, the Civil Aviation Administration of China, Boeing, Rolls Royce and others are meanwhile collaborating with Malaysia in a working group that is refining the Inmarsat data that led to the conclusion that MH370 had crashed in the southern Indian Ocean. It is hoped the team will be able to determine the final position of MH370.

Asked whether Malaysia had received a bruising from the international media over MH370, the transport minister said the word bruising was too harsh and he thought history would judge Malaysia well.

What the country had gone through since March 8 was unprecedented, he said. Not many countries, he said, could get 26 nations working together and bring in the most sophisticated planes from all corners of the world.

In a world full of division and hatred, he said, there was a joint effort from all sectors of the community, with no concern for race or religion.