MORE planes have joined the search of a remote patch of Australian waters in the hopes of finding answers to the fate of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, after China released a satellite image showing a large object floating in the search zone.
Four civilian jets and four military aircraft have arrived at the search area, about 2,500 kilometres south of Perth, in the southern Indian Ocean.
Mike Barton, from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, said today’s visual search, which began around 4pm AEDT due to time differences, would focus on a more defined area.
“China provided us with an image, we have incorporated that,” he said.
The previous search was hampered by poor visibility but today’s conditions are reported to be clear.
“The area continues to change as the water movement changes,” he said.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott revealed earlier that a wooden pallet had been spotted by one of the aircraft searching for the missing plane.
Mr Barton said the use of wooden pallets was quite common in the airline industry, but that pallets are also used in the shipping industry.
“We’ve gone back to the area where the pallet was spotted to attempt to locate it, he said.
AMSA said strapping belts were sighted within the palette but were not spotted a second time.
A number of Chinese warships are also on the way to assist with the search.
“China is very focused on assisting with the search,” Mr Barton said.
The search will continue late into the evening, AMSA said.
Deputy PM Warren Truss thanked AMSA for their time and effort.
“We hope that soon more information will be available to provide closure, especially for the families involved,” he said.
AMSA has refined the search based on the latest clue from the Chinese satellite showing an object that appeared to be 22 metres by 13 metres. It said the object’s position also fell within Saturday’s search area but it had not been sighted.
Today’s search has been split into two areas within the same proximity covering 59,000 square kilomeres.
Earlier, more details emerged of a mystery woman who reportedly called the captain of Flight MH370 before take-off, raising fears about his motives.
Phone records of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah have reportedly revealed he took a two-minute phone call from a mystery woman using a mobile phone number obtained under a false identity, The Mail Online reports.
Investigators are understood to be treating it seriously because anyone buying a pay-as-you-go SIM card in Malaysia has to fill out a form giving their identity card or passport number.
This ensures that every number is registered to a traceable person.
In investigations into the captain’s life, police are believed to have traced the number to a shop selling SIM cards in Kuala Lumpur.
It was bought “very recently” by someone who gave a woman’s name – but was using a false identity.
The news comes as police are understood to be keen to speak to the captain’s estranged wife.
After waiting for two weeks, they will now formally interview Faizah Khan following pressure from FBI agents assisting the inquiry, the Mail Online reports.
“The whole world is looking for this missing plane and the person who arguably knows most about the state of mind of the man who captained the plane is being left alone,” said a source close to the FBI team.
DEBRIS SPOTTED AS CHINESE SATELLITE IMAGES OFFER HOPE
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was told late last night a civilian aircraft had sighted a number of objects within the search zone.
It is the first direct sighting of debris and follows two hits by satellite in the past week.
“Yesterday one of our civilian search aircraft got visuals on a number of objects in a fairly small area in the overall Australian search zone,” Mr Abbott said today.
He said the debris was: “A number of small objects, fairly close together within the Australian search zone, including a wooden pallet.”
“It’s still too early to be definite, but obviously we have now had a number of very credible leads and there is increasing hope, no more than hope, no more than hope, that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen to this ill-fated aircraft,” Mr Abbott said.
Wooden pallets were onboard Flight MH370 before it vanished, as the aircraft was carrying crates of fruit, mainly mangosteens, that were meant to be delivered to Beijing.
His revelation gives further hope that authorities might be closing in on the fate of missing Malaysian aircraft MH370.
Speaking in the PNG capital Port Moresby as he prepared to fly back to Australia, Mr Abbott said the sighting was one of three significant developments in the past 24 hours.
Australia will resume its search today, after a new Chinese satellite image also revealed a large floating object deep in the southern Indian Ocean.
The grainy photo, which was taken on March 18 – two days after the first images were captured by commercial satellites and released by the State Administration of Science Technology and Industry – shows an object 22.5 metres by 13 metres floating in the ocean.
Malaysia’s Defence and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein made the announcement as “breaking news” midway through a press conference in Kuala Lumpur last night.
After being handed a note with the notes of a telephone conversation on it, Mr Hussein told the media that the Chinese had a “satellite image of floating objects in the southern corridor”.
Ships were now on the way to the location, he said.
“New satellite imagery, the Chinese satellite imagery, does seem to suggest at least one large object down there, consistent with the object that earlier satellite imagery discovered,” Mr Abbott said.
“Finally, the search has been joined today by four additional aircraft – two Chinese aircraft and two Japanese Orions.
“I want to say that this is a really big international effort and it does show many countries are capable of pulling together in times of trouble.”
Mr Abbott said the search was an important humanitarian exercise.
“We owe it to the almost 240 people on board the plane. We owe it to their grieving families. We owe it to the governments of the countries concerned to do everything we can to discover as much as we can about the fate of MH370,” he said.
“Obviously the more aircraft we have, the more ships we have – and HMAS success is in the search area now – the more confident we are of recovering whatever material is down there “It’s still too early to be definite by obviously we have now had a number of very credible leads and there is increasing hope – no more than hope – that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen to this ill-fated aircraft.”
COULD SATELLITE IMAGES BE POINTING TO MH370 WRECKAGE?
There is a “high likelihood” that the images are the wreckage of MH370, aviation expert Neil Hansford said.
The new find appeared to back up Australia’s efforts to focus the search at the location of the previous sighting, 2300km south west of Perth, he said.
“If that was taken later than the first images, it suggests it validates what they saw.”
Other aviation experts concur, saying it is the best lead we have in the search for the missing aircraft.
Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said the currents in the area typically move at about one metre per second but can sometimes move faster.
Based on the typical speed, a current could theoretically move a floating object about 173 kilometres in two days, making it harder for vessels to reach the objects detected via the satellites.
News of the new Chinese satellite image comes days after Australian satellite images also picked up what appeared to be debris about 2300km south west of Perth.
That debris was about the same size – the largest piece was 24 metres long.
The other piece of debris was 5 metres long.
The Boeing 777-200 is about 64 metres long with a wingspan of 61 metres and a fuselage about 6.2 metres in diameter, according to Boeing’s website.
But even if both satellites detected the same object, it may be unrelated to the plane.
One possibility is that it could have fallen off a cargo vessel.
Warren Truss, Australia’s acting prime minister while Tony Abbott is abroad, said before the new satellite data was announced that a complete search could take a long time.
“It is a very remote area, but we intend to continue the search until we’re absolutely satisfied that further searching would be futile — and that day is not in sight,” he said.
“If there’s something there to be found, I’m confident that this search effort will locate it,” Truss said from the base near Perth that is serving as a staging area for search aircraft.
TROPICAL CYCLONE COULD THREATEN SEARCH
Cyclone Gillian, which has set off a cyclone warning in the Southern Corridor area has yet to hamper search and rescue operations, but could interfere.
Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the cyclone was currently in the area around Christmas Island, and had yet to affect the Southern Corridor search area.
“It is not in the search and rescue area yet, but may approach it,” he said, adding it could hamper efforts there.
Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said it was currently a category one cyclone, and “was not affecting the search area yet, but could grow”.
“Some vessels may have to go through the cyclone to get to the search and rescue area,” he said.
SEARCH CONTINUES TO FIND PLANE DEBRIS
Today’s search has been split into two areas within the same proximity covering 59,000 square kilometres about 2500 kilometres south-west of Perth. These areas have been determined by drift modelling.
A total of eight aircraft have been tasked by AMSA’s Rescue Coordination Centre to undertake today’s search activities.
The civil aircraft are two Bombardier Global Express, a Gulfstream 5 and an Airbus 319.
One civil aircraft departed Perth for the search area just after 9am. Three other civil aircraft departed for the search area between 11am and midday.
The United States Navy P8 Poseidon aircraft departed for the search area about 11am.
A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P3 Orion aircraft departed RAAF Base Pearce about 11.45am. This aircraft will be followed by a second RAAF P3 Orion about 2pm.
A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3 Orion is scheduled to depart for the search area at 4pm.
HMAS Success is also conducting search activities today.