MH370 Search: Australian Satellite Spots Possible Plane Debris

March 20, 2014

A satellite image of one of the objects released Thursday by the Australian government

A satellite image of one of the objects released Thursday by the Australian government

By M. Alex Johnson

An Australian satellite spotted two objects in the southern Indian Ocean that could be related to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Australian authorities said Thursday in what they called “the best lead we have” in the mysterious case.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament on Thursday afternoon that he had spoken to Malaysia’s prime minister about the objects.

The objects were spotted on Sunday in satellite imagery about 2,250 kilometers, or roughly 1,400 miles, off the coast of Perth, John Young, emergency response general manager for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, said at a news conference Thursday afternoon in Canberra.

The objects are “relatively indistinct,” but the larger of the two appears to be about 24 meters across, he said — about 75 feet.

Young and Abbott said more analysis was needed before it could be determined whether the objects were, indeed, from Flight 370, but Young called the discovery “the best lead we have right now.”

“The task of locating these objects will be extremely difficult, and it may turn out that they may not be related,” Abbott said, but he characterized the find as “new and credible information” in the search for the Beijing-bound plane, which disappeared March 8 after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur.

A map released by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority MH 370

A map released by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority shows cumulative search areas in the Indian Ocean.

Young agreed that the analysis mission would be difficult, describing visibility in the area as “poor.” Better data could be obtained from further images expected once commercial satellites are redirected to help out “in due course,” he said.

Australian Defense Minister David Johnston called the operation “a logistical nightmare” in an interview on Sky News Australia.

“This is a terribly complex logistical operation to identify what we have found via the satellite,” Johnston said. “We are in a most isolated part of the world — in fact, it probably doesn’t get, if I can be so bold, more isolated.”

A P-3 Orion aircraft arrived in the area about 1:50 p.m. (10:50 p.m. ET Wednesday) to try to get a closer look at the objects, and three more jets were on their way to assist, Young said. One of them, a U.S. Navy P8 Poseidon, was believed to have already arrived in the area, he said.

An Australian warship equipped to recover large objects was also diverted to the area, but it isn’t expected to arrive for several days, he said.

Hishamuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s acting transport minister, urged patience and caution, saying, “We need to verify.”

But “with every lead, there is hope,” Hishamuddin told reporters before a meeting with an Australian delegation in Sepang.

“As I have been doing from day one, we follow every single lead,” he said. “Let’s just hope this is a positive development.”

At least three ambulances were parked Thursday outside the Cyberview Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, where a makeshift medical center was on standby to assist relatives of the plane’s passengers if needed, a Malaysia Airlines employee told NBC News.

The majority of the plane’s passengers were Chinese citizens, and a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Beijing was “highly concerned” about the findings, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Anxious relatives in Beijing appeared not to know how to take news of the discovery.

“We are waiting, just waiting, and we can’t respond to news until it is definitely confirmed,” Zhao Chunzeng, 43, of Beijing, told the news agency Agence France-Presse.

“We will still have to wait and see,” Zhao said.

If the objects are related, they are about 4,350 miles from the plane’s last known location, over Penang, Malaysia. Much attention has focused on a region north of the Strait of Malacca, south of Phuket Island, Thailand, and west of the Malaysian peninsula.

Authorities say the plane veered sharply off its flight plan because of “deliberate action by someone on the plane.”

A map released Australia MH 370

— Justin Kirschner and Sarah Burke of NBC News contributed to this report.

Courtesy: msn news

The Editor

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