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Satellite spots potential MH370 debris trail

March 26, 2014, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - A French satellite scanning the Indian Ocean for remnants of a missing jetliner found a possible plane debris field containing 122 objects, a top Malaysian official said Wednesday, calling it "the most credible lead that we have."


March 26, 2014
By The Associated Press

Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the objects were more than
2,500 kilometres southwest of Australia, in the area where a desperate,
multinational hunt has been going on since other satellites detected
possible jet debris.

 

Clouds obscured the latest satellite images, but dozens of objects
could be seen in the gaps, ranging in length from one metre to 23
metres. Hishammuddin said some of them "appeared to be bright, possibly
indicating solid materials."

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The images were taken Sunday and relayed by French-based Airbus
Defence and Space, a division of Europe's Airbus Group; its businesses
include the operation of satellites and satellite communications.


Various floating objects have been spotted by planes and
satellites over the last week, including on Wednesday, when the
Australian Maritime Safety Authority sent a tweet saying three more
objects were seen. The authority said two objects seen from a civil
aircraft appeared to be rope, and that a New Zealand military plane
spotted a blue object.


None of the objects were seen on a second pass, a frustration
that has been repeated several times in the hunt for Malaysian Airlines
Flight 370, missing since March 8 with 239 people aboard. It remains
uncertain whether any of the objects came from the plane; they could
have come from a cargo ship or something else.

 

"If it is confirmed to be MH370, at least we can then we can
move on to the next phase of deep sea surveillance
search," Hishammuddin said.


The search resumed Wednesday after fierce winds and high waves
forced crews to take a break Tuesday. A total of 12 planes and five
ships from the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and
New Zealand were participating in the search, hoping to find even a
single piece of the jet that could offer tangible evidence of a crash
and provide clues to find the rest of the wreckage.


Malaysia announced Monday that a mathematical analysis of the
final known satellite signals from the plane showed that it had crashed
in the sea, killing everyone on board.

 

 

The new data greatly reduced the search zone, but it remains
huge — an area estimated at 1.6 million square kilometres, about the
size of Alaska.


"We're throwing everything we have at this search," Australian
Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Nine Network television on Wednesday.


"This is about the most inaccessible spot imaginable. It's
thousands of kilometres from anywhere," he later told Seven Network
television. He vowed that "we will do what we can to solve this riddle."

In Beijing, some families held out a glimmer of hope their loved ones
might somehow have survived. About two-thirds of the missing were
Chinese, and their relatives have lashed out at Malaysia for essentially
declaring their family members dead without any physical evidence of
the plane's remains. Many also believe Malaysia has not been transparent
or swift in communicating information with them about the status of the
search.

 

Wang Chunjiang, whose brother was on the plane, said he felt "very conflicted."

 

"We want to know the truth, but we are afraid the debris of the plane
should be found," he said while waiting at a hotel near the Beijing
airport for a meeting with Malaysian officials. "If they find debris,
then our last hope would be dashed. We will not have even the slightest
hope."

China dispatched a special envoy to Kuala Lumpur, Vice Foreign
Minister Zhang Yesui, who met Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and
other top officials Wednesday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

 

China, which now has Chinese warships and an icebreaker in the search
zone, has been intent on supporting the interests of the Chinese
relatives of passengers, backing their demands for detailed information
on how Malaysia concluded the jet went down in the southern Indian
Ocean.

 

That also is the likely reason why Chinese authorities — normally
extremely wary of any spontaneous demonstrations that could undermine
social stability — permitted a rare protest Tuesday outside the
Malaysian embassy in Beijing, during which relatives chanted slogans,
threw water bottles and briefly tussled with police who kept them
separated from a swarm of journalists.

The plane's bizarre disappearance shortly after it took off from Kuala
Lumpur en route to Beijing has proven to be one of the biggest mysteries
in aviation.

Investigators have ruled out nothing so far — including mechanical or
electrical failure, hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to
the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.

 

The search for the wreckage and the plane's flight data and cockpit
voice recorders will be a major challenge. It took two years to find the
black box from an Air France jet that went down in the Atlantic Ocean
on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009, and searchers knew
within days where the crash site was.

There is a race against the clock to find Flight MH370's black boxes,
whose battery-powered "pinger" could stop sending signals within two
weeks. The batteries are designed to last at least a month.

 

On Wednesday, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is
co-ordinating the southern search operation on Malaysia's behalf, said a
U.S. Towed Pinger Locator arrived in Perth along with Bluefin-21
underwater drone. The equipment will be fitted to the Australian naval
ship, the Ocean Shield, but AMSA could not say when they would be
deployed.

 

Various pieces of floating objects have been spotted by planes and
satellite, but none have been retrieved or identified. Wednesday's
search focused on an 80,000 square kilometre swath of ocean about 2,000
kilometres southwest of Perth.

 

David Ferreira, an oceanographer at the University of Reading in
Britain, said little is known about the detailed topography of the
seabed in the general area where the plane is believed to have crashed.

 

"We know much more about the surface of the moon than we do about the
ocean floor in that part of the Indian Ocean," Ferreira said.

Kerry Sieh, the director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore, said
the seafloor in the search area is relative flat, with dips and crevices
similar to that the part of the Atlantic Ocean where the Air France
wreckage was found.

 

He believes any large pieces of the plane would likely stay put once
they have completely sunk. But recovering any part of the plane will be
tough because of the sheer depth of the ocean — much of it between about
3,000-4,500 metres in the search area — and inhospitable conditions on
the surface where intense winds and high swells are common.

 

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology warned that weather was expected to
deteriorate again Thursday with a cold front passing through the search
area that bring rain thunderstorms, low clouds and strong winds.