Flight Lt Jason Nichols writes notes aboard a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion during a search for the missing Malaysian Airlines plane over the southern Indian Ocean. (Reuters)
Sepang (Malaysia), March 22: A Chinese satellite has spotted an object in the southern Indian Ocean in an area that is the focus of a multinational effort to find a Malaysia Airlines airliner that disappeared on March 8, the Chinese authorities said today.
The object is about 22.5 metres long and 13 metres wide, China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence said on its website. The object was spotted on Tuesday about 120km to the south and west of objects seen two days earlier by a commercial satellite.
Defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein of Malaysia told reporters that the Chinese “will be sending ships to verify”. The object is in the area of one of two possible routes that investigators say they think Flight 370 took.
The two-week long search for the missing Boeing 777-200 has been plagued by sightings of debris which later proved not to belong to the aircraft, including an earlier Chinese satellite image that proved erroneous.
Satellite imagery captured near the Australian search areas shows objects which officials say could be related to the missing plane.
The hunt for any traces of the missing plane has been most intense in a section of the southern Indian Ocean some 2,500km off the coast southwest of Perth, the capital of Western Australia. On Thursday, the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, said the commercial satellite had spotted two large, indistinct objects floating in the area that might be wreckage from the aircraft. But searches by planes and ships combing the waters have failed to find the objects.
A second ultralong range commercial jet, a Gulfstream G5, joined the search off Western Australia. The two commercial jets now hired for the search would be able to spend more time at the search site than Australia’s military aircraft, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in an emailed statement today.
“The ultra long range commercial jets have an endurance of approximately five hours of search time,” the authority said. The Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion aircraft can spend just two hours over the site before they must return to their onshore base, the authority has said.
The Gulfstream G5 jet, a Bombardier Global Express jet and a Royal Australian Air Force P3 Orion have been flying out from the Royal Australian Air Force base, Pearce, 35km north of Perth, said Sam Cardwell, a spokesman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. Another three aircraft left for the search area later today.
A total of seven aircraft have become involved in the search: three Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion planes, a New Zealand P-3 Orion, a U.S. Navy Poseidon P-8 surveillance plane, and the two commercial aircraft. At least two merchant ships are also in the area, and the Australian Navy’s Success was expected to arrive late this afternoon, according to the Australian maritime Safety authority, which is based in Canberra, the national capital.
Also today, two Chinese Il-76 Ilyushin transport aircraft left an air base near the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, en route to Australia to take part in the search, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Britain is dispatching a naval hydrographic survey ship, the Echo, and t Japan is also sending two P-3 Orion aircraft.
The authority said today’s search would cover 13,900 square miles , and 10 trained volunteers from Western Australia’s State Emergency Services would join air force aircrew as spotters on the commercial jets.
The spokesman, Cardwell, said the volunteers were trained in search techniques including judging distances and spotting debris.
In the northern corridor, which stretches from Thailand to the shores of the Caspian Sea in Central Asia, countries have been searching radar records for any sign that the plane crossed their airspace. Today Hishammuddin said that six countries: China, Laos, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, had not seen anything:
“Based on preliminary analysis, there have been no sightings of the aircraft on their radars,” he said at a news conference in a hotel at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.