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China satellite image gives new focus to Malaysia jetliner search

March 22, 2014|By Don Lee
  • Malaysia's Minister of Defense and acting Minister of Transport Hishammuddin Hussein speaks at a press conference on Saturday in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia's Minister of Defense and acting Minister of Transport… (Rufus Cox / Getty Images )

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — China said Saturday that its satellite spotted a large object floating in the south Indian Ocean area that has become a focal point in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

A Chinese defense agency said on its website that satellite pictures taken around noon Tuesday showed an object measuring 74 feet by 43 feet, about 75 miles southwest of where Australia two days earlier captured images of two indistinct objects, one of them estimated at 79 feet long. Australian officials have said these could be related to the flight that disappeared March 8.

Since Australia reported its satellite sightings Thursday, an increasingly intensifying effort has been undertaken to comb the waters about 1,500 miles off the coast of the western Australian city of Perth. But Saturday's hunt ended with aircraft equipment and human spotters finding little more than a wooden pallet and clumps of seaweed, said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the operation in that area.

PHOTOS: Search for missing Malaysia Airlines plane

In a statement, the maritime agency said it had plotted the position of the new Chinese satellite image and that it fell within Saturday's search area. The authority said it would take the new information into account in Sunday's search plans, which could be affected by bad weather.

The report of the Chinese image came amid concerns that any objects seen by satellite days ago may already have sunk, but it is still likely to give further impetus to the multinational search in the so-called southern corridor that is thought to be a likely path taken by Flight 370, though it had flown from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing. Malaysia's defense minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said that China would be dispatching ships to the area of the object sightings.

China already has five ships in the southern corridor and is sending two more, Hishammuddin said in a statement during a daily press briefing, which was cut short by the Chinese satellite news. He also said two Chinese aircraft capable of hauling heavy items were to arrive Saturday in Perth to join Australia, the United States and New Zealand in the search operations.

Two merchant ships and an Australian navy vessel also are in the search area, which encompasses 13,900 square miles.

Japanese planes will arrive Sunday, and two Indian aircraft that landed in Malaysia on Friday night also will assist with the search in the southern area, Hishammuddin said. In addition, a British vessel equipped with underwater search sensors is en route, he said.

Despite the growing and sophisticated resources, the operation has proved daunting, not only because of the large search area but also the generally strong currents and rough seas in this remote section of the Indian Ocean. Hishammuddin said there was a cyclone warning for the southern corridor.

On Saturday, weather conditions and visibility were good as four Orion military aircraft and two long-range commercial planes scoured the waters, with 10 volunteer air observers helping to look for any objects that could be related to the missing jetliner.

Australia's maritime agency said observers in one of the civilian planes spotted a number of small objects, including a pallet, within a radius of about three miles, but an inspection later by a New Zealand Orion found only seaweed.

Despite the lack of success thus far, Malaysian officials have pledged to keep search and rescue operations going as long as there was hope.

"I know this roller-coaster has been incredibly hard for everyone, especially for the families," Hishammuddin said Saturday in the news briefing. Flight 370 took off with 239 passengers and crew on board. "We hope and pray this difficult search will be resolved, and bring to closure to those whose relatives were on board," he said.


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