March 21, 2014 in Nation/World

Jet search shifts to Indian Ocean

Official calls debris sighting ‘best lead we have right now’
Scott Mcdonald And Kristen Gelineau Associated Press
 

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Search planes flew out of Australia today to scour rough seas in one of the remotest places on Earth for objects that may be from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

In what one official called the “best lead” of the nearly 2-week-old aviation mystery, a satellite detected two large objects floating off the southwest coast of Australia about halfway to the desolate islands of the Antarctic.

The area in the southern Indian Ocean is so remote it takes aircraft longer to fly there – four hours – than it allows for the search.

The discovery raised new hope of finding the vanished jet and sent another emotional jolt to the families of the 239 people aboard.

A search Thursday with four planes in cloud and rain found nothing, and Australian authorities said early today efforts were resuming with the first of five aircraft – a Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion – leaving at dawn for the area about 1,400 miles from western Australia.

A civilian Gulfstream jet and a second Orion were to depart later today and a third Orion was due to fly out in the early afternoon to scour more than 8,880 square miles of ocean.

A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft was scheduled to leave the base at about 4 p.m., but like the other planes, it will have enough fuel for only two to three hours of search time before returning to Perth.

One of the objects on the satellite image was almost 80 feet long and the other was 15 feet. There could be other objects in the area, a four-hour flight from Australia, John Young, manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s emergency response division, said Thursday.

“This is a lead, it’s probably the best lead we have right now,” Young said. He cautioned that the objects could be seaborne debris along a shipping route where containers can fall off cargo vessels, although the larger object is longer than a standard container.

Warren Truss, Australia’s acting prime minister while Tony Abbott is overseas, said officials were checking more satellite images with stronger resolution to find out how far the objects might have shifted since the initial images were captured. “They will have moved because of tides and wind and the like, so the search area is quite broad,” Truss said, adding marker buoys were dropped to help get a better understanding of what drift is likely to have occurred.

There have been several false leads since the Boeing 777 disappeared March 8 above the Gulf of Thailand en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and one analyst cautioned against rising hopes the objects are from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

“The chances of it being debris from the airplane are probably small, and the chances of it being debris from other shipping are probably large,” said Jason Middleton, an aviation professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

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