22 Mar 2014

New lead in Malaysia Airlines search

11:59 pm on 22 March 2014

A news conference on the missing airliner in Kuala Lumpur was dramatically interrupted on Saturday night.

The Acting Transport Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, was handed a note saying that China has new satellite images of one or more floating objects that could be related to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

The note said the Chinese government would be making an announcement in the coming hours.

An object said to be 30m by 13m is said to be in the southern Indian Ocean, south-west of Perth, an area that is being searched by Australian, New Zealand and American aircraft.

Reports say the new sighting is about 120km from the two other objects identified by satellite imagery earlier this week.

Mr Hussein earlier told the conference that countries in the so-called northern search corridor have said they have found nothing to suggest the plane came into their air space.

Meanwhile the head of the RNZAF air command, Air Commodore Mike Yardley, says bad weather continues to hamper the search of the 36,000 square kilometre zone in the southern Indian Ocean.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force PC-3 Orion takes off from RAAF Pearce air base in Perth.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force PC-3 Orion takes off from RAAF Pearce air base in Perth. Photo: AAP / Richard Wainwright

An Australian Orion was first off the ground on Saturday, followed by two ultra long-range commercial jets and the New Zealand P3 Orion. Two other Australian Orions, two civilian aircraft and two merchant ships are also in the zone as the search for the jetliner enters its third week.

Australia's Acting Prime Minister, Warren Truss, says the search for Malaysian flight MH370 will continue indefinitely, as more resources are thrown at the operation.

Australian rescue officials have broadened the search area and boosted the number of spotter planes scouring the Indian Ocean.

Air Commodore Yardley says the New Zealand government has told Australia that its resources will be available as long as they are needed.

The New Zealand crew hoped to cover 7,250 square kilometres of ocean on Saturday. But low cloud, some rain and sea fog made the search more difficult, as the crew has had to reduce the distance between search tracks.

The Royal Australian Navy supply ship Success is also due in the search area. China and Japan are sending planes and Chinese navy vessels are steaming to the zone, more than 2,300km southwest of Perth.

Search continues for third week

Flight MH370 went missing with 239 people on board after it left Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing on 8 March. Malaysia said the plane was intentionally diverted and could have flown on either a northern or southern arc from its last known position in the Malacca Straits.

An international air search is scouring the southern Indian Ocean for two floating objects that had shown up on grainy satellite photo taken several days earlier.

Although the images were too indistinct to confirm as debris from Flight MH370, Australian and Malaysian officials said they represented the most "credible" leads to date in the hunt for the plane and its 239 passengers and crew.

Chinese ice breaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon) joined the search after refuelling at Fremantle and was expected to arrive in the area within three to four days, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The ship was involved in the rescue of scientists whose Antarctic expedition became trapped in sea ice in January.

Meanwhile, the first Chinese plane heading to Australia to join the hunt landed at the wrong airport.

The Chinese IL-76 military aircraft made an unexpected stop at Perth International Airport before heading to its correct destination at RAAF Base Pearce outside Perth, where search and rescue operations are being coordinated.

An officer at the base says they don't know why the aircraft went to the wrong airport.

The incident may underscore the difficulties facing the increasingly complex multinational search effort.

Mr Hussein said his biggest concern is that they will not able to identify the debris, and have to go back to the two vast corridors in the north and the south.

Aircraft and ships have also renewed the search in the Andaman Sea between India and Thailand, going over areas that have already been exhaustively swept to find some clue to unlock one of the biggest mysteries in modern aviation.

US asked for sonar equipment

Crew of an Australian Air Force Orion searching in the southern Indian Ocean.

Crew of an Australian Air Force Orion searching in the southern Indian Ocean. Photo: AFP

Meanwhile, the United States is considering a request from Malaysia to provide undersea surveillance equipment to bolster the search as concerns grow that any debris may have sunk to the bottom of the sea.

Mr Hussein made the request on Friday in a phone call with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

The US Navy has a variety of active and passive sonar systems, some of which search the ocean for objects by emitting sound "pings" and monitoring the echoes that bounce back, and others that listen for sound like an undersea microphone.

The US military loaned sonar technology to France during its two-year effort to locate the black box from an Air France jetliner that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in June 2009.

Flight simulator not suspicious

Forensic experts examining the home flight simulator of Malaysia Airlines pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah have found nothing suspicious, the ABC reports.

The information, from unnamed police sources in Kualu Lumpur, would collapse the only significant lead investigators have been pursuing to try to solve the mystery disappearance.

Investigators became suspicious last week when they discovered Mr Zaharie had deleted logs on a computer linked to the simulator on 3 February.

The computer hard drive was sent to FBI experts in the US to search for evidence of any kind of hijacking plot.

Intensive scrutiny of Mr Zaharie's background has failed uncover any links to extremists groups or terrorism.

Investigations have also failed to find anything suspicious in the background of his co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid.

Relatives vent anger

The police have been forced to intervene as relatives of Chinese passengers aboard Flight MH370 rushed towards Malaysian officials at a Beijing hotel, demanding answers over the fate of their loved ones.

The delegation of Malaysian government and military officials flew to Beijing for what turned out to be a bad-tempered meeting with relatives.

The confrontation at the Lido Hotel came with many clinging to the hope that family members might still be alive and alleging Malaysian involvement in a cover-up.

A total of 153 Chinese were on board the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that disappeared from civilian radar screens on 8 March, nearly an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur.

The lack of firm answers from airline officials has undermined the relatives' confidence in the hunt for the jet.

Relatives of Chinese passengers vented their anger at a briefing in Beijing.

Relatives of Chinese passengers vented their anger at a briefing in Beijing. Photo: AFP

Malaysia has been criticised for its handling of the crisis, especially by Chinese relatives who have accused authorities and the flag-carrier airline of providing insufficient or misleading information.

The event on Friday began with family members yelling at delegates to stand up when they were being introduced. "You have wasted so much time," shouted one.

The nature of the events that diverted MH370 from its intended flight path on March 8 remain shrouded in mystery, although Malaysian investigators have stuck to their assumption that it was the result of a "deliberate action" by someone on board.

A woman sits in front of a board filled with prayers and messages at a Beijing hotel where relatives are staying.

A woman sits in front of a board filled with prayers and messages at a Beijing hotel where relatives are staying. Photo: AFP