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MISSING MH370: New lead from China as search enters Week 3

Publication Date : 23-03-2014


Race to find missing MH370 focuses on satellite sighting of large floating object


China unveiled satellite pictures showing a large-sized object in the southern Indian Ocean, in what could be a breakthrough in the search for the missing plane that entered its third week yesterday.

Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein interrupted the tail end of his daily press conference saying he had just received "breaking news" and made the dramatic announcement from a scrap of paper handed to him.

The handwritten note said the Chinese ambassador had called with news about a floating object in the southern corridor of the search area and that Beijing would announce it in a couple of hours.

Hishammuddin then left hurriedly "to follow this lead".

Reading from the note, he identified the floating object as measuring 22m x 30m, a figure that was later officially corrected to 22.5m x 13m, slightly smaller than the satellite image reported by Australia.

The new sighting, captured last Tuesday, was 120km south-west of the first and, if found to be parts of the missing plane, could suggest currents are dragging the objects out to the remotest parts of the Indian Ocean.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China had informed Malaysia and Australia about the object spotted by the Chinese satellite Gaofen-1.

"China hopes that this data will be helpful for search and rescue efforts," he said. "China will continue to cooperate closely with the parties concerned and share information with them so as to make an all-out search and rescue work."

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared over the South China Sea in the early hours of March 8, shortly after leaving Kuala Lumpur on a planned flight to Beijing. The plane had 239 passengers and crew on board, of whom 153 were Chinese nationals.

The Malaysian government said communications with the flight were cut off shortly before it made a sharp turn back. Malaysian military radar spotted it some 322km north-west of Penang after which there has been little evidence of the flight, which apparently continued for another six hours at least.

The world's biggest current search has involved 26 countries, grouped along a northern corridor stretching from Laos to the Caspian Sea and a southern corridor reaching down to the southern Indian Ocean.

Last Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said satellites had picked up two large objects that might be debris from the plane but subsequent searches by planes could not locate them.

Experts were willing to give some credence to the latest discovery by the Chinese satellite.

John Blaxland, a senior fellow at Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, told Xinhua that if the Chinese satellite measurement was correct, the find is consistent with the wing of a Boeing 777 plane.

But the new object did not appear to be the one spotted in earlier images. "It is similar shaped, but if the measurements are correct, then this is slightly wider," he said.

Australian, Chinese and other ships were speeding to the zone yesterday, with the Australian battle tanker HMAS Success closest to the area.

Overhead, P8 Poseidon, P3 Orion and Gulfstream G5 aircraft from Australia, New Zealand and the United States scoured the area and were set to return today.

Hishammuddin indicated that a cyclonic storm over Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean could also head that way, complicating search efforts.

Malaysia has repeatedly stressed the importance of finding the plane's black box to fix responsibility for the rogue flight. But, with little information about the plane or apparent progress in the investigation, it has had to confront angry next of kin of the passengers and an increasingly indignant China.


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