French satellites spot potential plane debris

Monday 24 March 2014 10.04
Australian prime minister hopes growing of breakthrough in the hunt for the missing Malaysian airliner
Australian prime minister hopes growing of breakthrough in the hunt for the missing Malaysian airliner

French satellites have spotted "potential objects" in the southern search area for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.

"This morning, Malaysia received new satellite images from the French authorities," Malaysia's transport ministry said in a statement. "Malaysia immediately relayed these images to the Australian rescue co-ordination centre."

The ministry did not give any other details on the satellite images. 

Meanwhile, Australia's prime minister said there was "increasing hope" of a breakthrough in the hunt for a missing Malaysian airliner, after Chinese satellite images showed what could be debris within a search area deep in the southern Indian Ocean.

The latest possible lead came as the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 entered its third week, with still no confirmed trace of the Boeing 777.

An international force resumed its search efforts on Sunday, zeroing in on two areas some 2,500 km (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth in an effort to find the object identified by China and other small debris including a wooden pallet spotted by a search plane yesterday.

"New Chinese satellite imagery does seem to suggest at least one large object down there, consistent with the object that earlier satellite imagery discovered," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters in Papua New Guinea, where he is on a visit.

"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."

The new Chinese discovery was dramatically announced by Malaysia's acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, on Saturday after he was handed a note with details during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur.

China said the object was 22 metres long and 13 metres wide, and spotted around 120km "south by west" of potential debris reported by Australia off its west coast in the southern Indian Ocean.

The new image was captured early on 18 March, China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) said on its website.

It could not easily be determined from the blurred images whether the objects were the same as those detected by Australia, but the Chinese photograph could depict a cluster of smaller objects, said a senior military officer from one of the 26 nations involved in the search for the plane.

The wing of a Boeing 777-200ER is approximately 27 metres long and 14 metres wide at its base, according to estimates derived from publicly available scale drawings. Its fuselage is 63.7 metres long by 6.2 metres wide.

Flight MH370 vanished from civilian radar screens early on March 8, less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on a scheduled flight to Beijing.

Investigators believe someone on board shut off the plane's communications systems, and partial military radar tracking showed it turning west and re-crossing the Malay Peninsula, apparently under the control of a skilled pilot.

That has led them to focus on hijacking or sabotage, but they have not ruled out technical problems. Faint electronic "pings" detected by a commercial satellite suggested it flew for another six hours or so, but could do no better than place its final signal on one of two vast arcs.

While the southern arc is now the main focus of the search, Malaysia says the search will continue in both corridors until confirmed debris is found.

"Hopefully we will eventually provide some sort of closure or at least understanding of what happened on board Malaysian Airlines Flight MA370," Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said. "The search will continue and will continue as long as there's hope."