Sydney, March 20: Satellite cameras spotted objects floating in the southern Indian Ocean that might be parts of the Malaysia Airlines jet that vanished on March 8, the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, said today.
Abbott and an Australian rescue organiser both counselled caution about the sighting, found in images recorded on Tuesday. The first Royal Australian Air Force plane to fly over the estimated location of the objects returned to base today without spotting anything that fit the description — a reminder of how the hunt for the missing Boeing 777 jetliner could remain long, difficult and possibly fruitless.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in a message on Twitter that the search aircraft, a P-3 Orion, was “unable to locate debris — cloud and rain limited visibility — further aircraft to continue search.”
Later, a US Navy P-8A Poseidon also returned from searching the target area to an air base near Perth, the capital of Western Australia, and “had nothing of significance to report”, according to a message from the US Seventh Fleet, which is overseeing the American military contribution to the search. Cmdr. William J. Marks, the spokesman for the fleet, said in an email that the Poseidon had found “no indication of debris”.
Australian Premier Discusses Search Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia spoke at a news conference and said his government would do all it could to help find the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Abbott told parliament in Canberra, the capital, that “the Australian Maritime Safety Authority has received information based on satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search”. He said that after analysing the images, “two possible objects related to the search have been identified”.
He cautioned that “we must keep in mind the task of locating these objects will be extremely difficult, and it may turn out that they are not related to the search”. Flight 370 and its 239 passengers and crew members took off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing in the early hours of March 8 and disappeared from ground controllers’ screens 40 minutes later.
The part of the ocean where the debris was spotted is remote and little travelled, but a cargo ship that was diverted southward from its usual route two days ago at the request of the Australian authorities reached the area late yesterday, the first ship to arrive on the scene. An Australian naval vessel dispatched to the area, some 2494km southwest of Perth, is still some days away.
Executives of Hoegh Autoliners, the Norwegian owners of the cargo ship, said at a news conference in Oslo today that the ship and its crew of 19 were at the authorities’ disposal and would remain in the area as long as needed. Ingar Skiaker, the company’s chief executive, and Sebjorn Dahl, its head of human resources, said the vessel, a car carrier named the St Petersburg, had radar equipment and powerful search lights that would be used to scan the ocean surface around the clock.
The executives said weather conditions near the ship were good, but the crew had not spotted anything so far.
John Young, the general manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s emergency response division, who is overseeing the ocean search off Australia, sought to moderate any hopes that parts of the plane might have been found.
One of the floating objects, he said, appeared to be around 24 meters in length, but he could not say what shape it was or whether it had markings on it that would identify it.
“On this occasion, the size and the fact there are a number located in the same area makes it worth looking at,” Young said at a news conference in Canberra.
“This is a lead — it is probably the best lead we have right now,” he said. “They are credible sightings. The indications to me are of objects that are of reasonable size and awash with water.”
He said that part of the south Indian Ocean was liable to contain some large debris, such as containers lost overboard from merchant vessels.
An Australian Air Force plane has been asked to drop marker buoys near the objects, which searchers can keep in sight to track the pieces as currents move them. Four other aircraft and several ships were rerouted to the area, Young said.
The area is four hours’ flying time from Perth for the Royal Australian Air Force Orion P-3, which allows the surveillance aircraft to spend two hours of search time at the site.