Sydney/Perth, March 29 (Reuters): Chinese ships trawled a new area in the Indian Ocean for a missing Malaysian passenger jet today, as the search for Flight MH370 entered its fourth week amid a series of false dawns over sightings of debris.
Australian authorities coordinating the operation moved the search 1,100km north yesterday after new analysis of radar and satellite data concluded the Malaysia Airlines plane travelled faster and for a shorter distance after vanishing from civilian radar screens on March 8.
A Chinese military aircraft spotted three suspicious objects today in the new search area some 1,850km west of Perth, coloured white, red and orange respectively, the official Xinhua news agency said.
That sighting follows reports of “multiple objects of various colours” by international flight crews yesterday, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). Some looked like they were from fishing boats and nothing could be confirmed until they were recovered by ships, it added.
“We’re hopeful to relocate some of the objects we were seeing yesterday,” Royal New Zealand Air Force Squadron Leader Flight Lieutenant Leon Fox told Reuters before flying out to the search zone on an Orion P-3. “Hopefully some of the ships in the area will be able to start picking it up and give us an indication of what we were seeing.”
The Chinese navy vessel Jinggangshan, which carries two helicopters, reached the new search area early today where it was expected to focus on searching for plane surfaces, oil slicks and life jackets in a sea area of some 6,900 sq km, state news agency Xinhua reported.
Another four Chinese vessels and one from Australia were on the way but would not arrive until late in the day.
Malaysia says the Boeing 777, which vanished less than an hour into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was likely diverted deliberately but investigators have turned up no apparent motive or other red flags among the 227 passengers or the 12 crew.
US officials close to the investigation said the FBI found nothing illuminating in data it had received from computer equipment used by MH370’s pilots, including a home-made flight simulator.
The search has involved more than two dozen countries and 60 aircraft and ships but has been bedevilled by regional rivalries and an apparent reluctance to share potentially crucial information due to security concerns.
Two Malaysian military aircraft, which arrived in Perth today, are expected to join the search party for the first time on Sunday.
For more than a week, ships and surveillance planes had been scouring seas 2,500 km southwest of Perth, where satellite images had shown possible debris from Flight MH370. That search zone has now been abandoned.
In the first week of the search, Vietnamese, Chinese and Malaysia ships and planes concentrated their efforts in the South China Sea. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said the latest shift north was based on analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.