Thai satellite spots '300 floating objects' in Malaysian plane search

Thursday 27 March 2014 22.12
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Able Seaman Kurt Jackson keeps watch on the forecastle of the Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Success during the search for the plane (Pic: EPA)
Able Seaman Kurt Jackson keeps watch on the forecastle of the Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Success during the search for the plane (Pic: EPA)
A RIB from HMAS Success heads out to investigate a potential object sighted in the search (Pic: EPA)
A RIB from HMAS Success heads out to investigate a potential object sighted in the search (Pic: EPA)
Bad weather halted the planned air search of an area that may contain a large amount of debris
Bad weather halted the planned air search of an area that may contain a large amount of debris

Thailand has spotted 300 floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean during a satellite search for the missing Malaysia Air passenger jet, its space agency has said.

The objects, ranging from two to 15 metres in size, were scattered over an area about 1,600 miles (2,700km) southwest of Perth according to Anond Snidvongs, executive director of the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency.

Earlier this week, French satellite pictures identified more than 100 objects, which could be from the Boeing 777, in the southern Indian Ocean.

An international search team had been heading to the area today, however severe weather has halted the search.

"The forecast in the area was calling for severe icing, severe turbulence and near-zero visibility," said Lieutenant Commander Adam Schantz, the officer in charge of the US Navy Poseidon P8 maritime surveillance aircraft detachment.

"Anybody who's out there is coming home and all additional sorties from here are cancelled."

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the effort, confirmed flights had been called off, but said ships continued to search, correcting an earlier statement that had said all operations had been suspended.

Flight MH370 is thought to have crashed on 8 March with the loss of all 239 people aboard after flying thousands of miles off course.

The latest satellite images were captured by France-based Airbus Defence & Space on Monday and showed 122 potential objects in a 122 sq.m (400sq.km) area of ocean.

"We have now had four separate satellite leads, from Australia, China and France, showing possible debris," Malaysian Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur late yesterday.

"It is now imperative that we link the debris to MH370."

The flight vanished from civilian radar screens less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing, and investigators believe someone on board may have shut off the plane's communications systems. 

Theories range from a hijacking to sabotage or a possible suicide by one of the pilots, but investigators have not ruled out technical problems.

Partial military radar tracking showed the plane turning west off its scheduled course over the South China Sea and then recrossing the Malay Peninsula, apparently under the control of a skilled pilot.

The logistical difficulties of the search have been highlighted by the failure so far to get a lock on possible debris, despite the now numerous satellite images and direct visual sightings from aircraft and ships.

The search area in the southern Indian Ocean has some of the deepest and roughest waters in the world.

One day had already been lost earlier this week because weather conditions were too dangerous for the search crews, which come from Australia, the United States, New Zealand, China, Japan and South Korea.

Recovery of wreckage could unlock clues about why and how the plane had diverted so far off course in one of aviation's most puzzling mysteries.

The United States has sent an undersea Navy drone and a high-tech black box detector, which will be fitted to an Australian ship due in Perth in the coming days.

The so-called black boxes - the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder - record what happens during flight, but time is running out to pick up their locator beacons, which stop about a month after a crash due to limited battery life.

The prolonged and so far fruitless search and investigation have taken a toll, with dozens of distraught relatives of 150 Chinese passengers clashing with police and accusing Malaysia of "delays and deception".

Chinese insurance companies have started paying compensation to the families of passengers, state news agency Xinhua has said.

The family of Paul Weeks, a New Zealander on board the Malaysia Airlines flight, said they had been angered by the way the airline has dealt with the families of passengers.

"The whole situation has been handled appallingly, incredible insensitivity, lack of information," Mr Weeks' sister Sara Weeks told Radio Live in New Zealand.

She said her sister-in-law only received a text message to say that her husband was presumed dead.