Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane search teams 'found objects', raise hope

Written by Agencies | Perth/Sydney | Updated: Mar 29 2014, 02:25am hrs
MHPeople place their candles after a candlelight vigil for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370. High winds and icy weather halted the air search on Thursday for a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet presumed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean. Reuters
The search area for the lost Malaysian jetliner moved 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the northeast on Friday, following a new analysis of radar data, and a plane quickly found objects that a ship set out to investigate.

A New Zealand military plane, one of nine aircraft hunting for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, found the objects Friday, though the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said on Twitter that it would likely be Saturday before one of the six ships on the way could and determine whether the objects were plane wreckage.

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A Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft lands at the RAAF Base Pearce near Perth. (Reuters)

The search for the crashed Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane today dramatically shifted to a new area 1,100 km further northeast in the Indian Ocean after authorities received "the most credible lead" of radar data suggesting the plane flew faster and ran out of fuel more quickly than estimated.

A New Zealand military plane searching the new area found objects, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), coordinating the search operations, said on Twitter.

AMSA said "sightings need confirmation by ship not expected until tomorrow".

It said the search for Malaysia Airlines plane would now focus on an area 1,100 km further north-east in the southern Indian Ocean off the western Australian coast. The new area is closer to land and has calmer weather than the old one, making search operations easier.

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Crew on an Australian Air Force C-17 Globemaster unload an Australian Navy Seahawk helicopter at the RAAF Base Pearce near Perth. (Reuters)

Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane search shifted dramatically over 1,000 km after 'most credible lead' yet

AMSA said that the new search area was about 1,850 km west of Perth and covered some 319,000 sq km.

However, this means the huge, isolated areas of the Indian Ocean that ships and planes had combed for more than a week and where various satellites detected objects that might be debris from the missing plane -- are no longer of interest.

Ten aircraft from six countries -- Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United States were diverted to the new area of search operations.

Five Chinese ships and an Australian naval vessel were also heading towards the new zone of interest.

AMSA said the new information was based on analysis of radar data from Malaysia of Flight MH370 Boeing 777-200 before contact was lost 20 days ago.

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Relatives of passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 shout as they and other relatives make an early exit from a briefing by Malaysian government officials in Beijing. (Reuters)

Officials have concluded that, based on satellite data, the Malaysia Airlines plane flew into the sea somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean. Search efforts had until today been focusing on an area some 2,500 km to the southwest of Perth.

The Beijing-bound jetliner - carrying 239 people, including five Indians, an Indo-Canadian and 154 Chinese nationals - had vanished after taking off from Kuala Lumpur and crashed in the remote southern Indian Ocean.

Using satellite images, several nations have identified objects floating in the sea in that area, but there has been no confirmation as yet that any of them are from the Malaysia Airlines plane.

A statement from AMSA said the latest advice had come from the international investigation team in Malaysia.

It said that the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) had examined the advice "and determined that this is the most credible lead to where debris may be located".

"The new information is based on continuing analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost," AMSA said.

"It indicated that the Malaysia Airlines plane was traveling faster than previously estimated, resulting in increased fuel usage and reducing the possible distance the aircraft travelled south into the Indian Ocean."

Malaysia Airlines

The new search area is "considerable" and conditions there "remain challenging," acting Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in Kuala Lumpur today.

Australian officials also played down the significance of hundreds of possible objects detected by satellites in the previous search region, some of which had been described by authorities as important leads.

"In regards to the old areas, we have not seen any debris," John Young, general manager of emergency response for the Australian maritime authority, told reporters in Canberra.

"And I would not wish to classify any of the satellite imagery as debris, nor would I want to classify any of the few visual sightings that we made as debris. That's just not justifiable from what we have seen."

Officials had repeatedly cautioned that the objects seen in the satellite imagery could just be flotsam that had fallen off cargo ships.

But Hishammuddin said the new search area "could still be consistent" with the idea that materials spotted in recent satellite photos over the previous search area are connected to the plane. The materials could have drifted in ocean currents, he said.

The potential flight path could be the subject of further refinement as investigations continued, the AMSA statement said, adding that satellites would now focus on the new area.

"This is a credible new lead and will be thoroughly investigated today," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

The new search zone is closer to Western Australia, which should enable the surveillance aircraft to spend longer scanning the sea for debris.

Meanwhile, Japanese satellite images have shown around 10 floating objects off Australia that are "very probably" from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the government said today.

It was not immediately clear whether the objects spotted by Japan lay within the new zone.

The objects are highly likely to be part of the missing plane, given their location and their proximity to other finds, an official said.

A Thai satellite had spotted hundreds of floating objects in southern Indian Ocean.

The image of 300 floating objects was taken by the Thaichote satellite on Monday, a day after images from a French satellite purported to show 122 such objects.

Earlier, Australian and Chinese satellites had also detected unidentified debris.

Dejected family members of the Chinese passengers aboard the missing plane walked out of a briefing by Malaysian officials today in Beijing, leaving the panel to stare at ranks of empty chairs.

Payouts to kin of Malaysia Airlines MH370 passengers made even as no indications of crash found

Chinese insurance companies have started to pay compensation to the families of passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane presumed crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.

China Life, the country's largest insurance company, has provided the families of seven passengers with a total compensation of 4.17 million yuan ($671,600), Chen Honghao, an official from China Life's department of planning, told Reuters by telephone on Friday.

China Life had 32 clients on the flight and estimates its total compensation would be 8.94 million yuan, Chen said.

Shanghai-based China Pacific Insurance Co., Ltd. compensated the family members of one of its clients with 525,000 yuan on Wednesday, Yan Liping, an executive from the firm's branding division, said in an emailed statement.

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A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) pilot looks at documents while sitting on the flight deck of a P-3K2 Orion maritime patrol aircraft as it returns from the southern Indian Ocean after searching for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370. (Reuters)

China Pacific Insurance estimates that it will have to pay out a total of 4.04 million yuan to the families of 12 clients on the flight, Yan said.

New China Life Insurance Co. Ltd. will compensate the families of nine clients on board the flight with a total of about 1 million yuan, Zhang Hongxia, a public relations official from the firm, said on Thursday.

Sunshine Insurance will provided 500,000 yuan in compensation for the family of one of its clients, a woman surnamed Zhang from the firm said on Thursday. ($1 = 6.2 yuan)

Also read: Malaysia Airlines missing Flight MH370: Search teams fight fatigue, bad weather

Credible lead on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, search re-directed to new area in Indian Ocean

An international air and sea taskforce hunting for the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was re-directed on Friday to an area 1,100 km (685 miles) north of where they have been searching for more than a week, after Australian authorities received new radar information from Malaysia.

The dramatic shift in the search area, moving it further than the distance between London and Berlin, followed analysis of radar data that showed the missing plane had travelled faster, and so would have run out of fuel quicker, than previously thought.

The new search area is larger, but closer to the Australian west coast city of Perth, allowing aircraft to spend longer on site by shortening travel times. It is also vastly more favourable in terms of the weather as it is out of the deep sea region known as the Roaring 40s for its huge seas and frequent storm-force winds.

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A woman breaks into tears as she joins a ceremony in memory of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (AP)

Dramatic shift in search area after new lead on missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370

Planes are searching a new area of the Indian Ocean for possible signs of the Malaysian airliner after a new analysis of radar data suggests the plane flew faster than thought and used up more fuel, which may have reduced the distance it traveled, Australia said Friday.

Based on the new information, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said it had shifted the search area for the jet that disappeared nearly three weeks ago to a region 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the northeast of where planes and ships had been trying to find any sign of it.

Four search planes were in the area Friday, and six ships were headed there, said John Young, manager of AMSA's emergency response division, adding they had moved on from the previous search area, some 2,500 kilometers southwest of Perth, Australia, the launching base for the search.

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A woman places a paper crane as a symbol for hope and healing during a ceremony in memory of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370 in Kuala Lumpur. (AP)

For more than a week, ships and surveillance planes have been scouring seas 2,500 km (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, where satellite images had suggested there could be debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which went missing on March 8 with 239 people aboard.

The dramatic shift in the search area was based on analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said. At that time, the Boeing 777 was making a radical diversion west from its course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The data indicated the plane was travelling faster than previously estimated, meaning it was burning fuel faster and reducing the distance it might have travelled south into the Indian Ocean, AMSA said in a statement.

"As a result today's search will shift to an area 1,100 km to the northeast based on updated advice provided by the international investigation team in Malaysia," it said.

Satellite images had shown suspected debris, including pieces as large as 24 metres (70 feet), within the original search area in the southern Indian Ocean.

An AMSA spokeswoman said she had no further information on what the debris seen in satellite images might have been or if it was related to the missing plane.

Potential debris has also been seen from search aircraft but none has been picked up or confirmed as the wreckage of Flight MH370, which disappeared from civilian radar screens less than an hour after taking off.

Officials believe someone on board may have shut off the plane's communications systems before flying it thousands of miles off course where it crashed into the ocean in one of the most isolated and foreboding regions on the planet.

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

SHIFTING SEARCHES

Ten international aircraft and six ships were now being directed to the new area of 319,000 square kilometres and around 1,850 km (1,150 miles) west of Perth. The Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation was also redirecting satellites there, AMSA said.

The latest twist underscores the perplexing and frustrating hunt for evidence in the near three-week search. It comes less than a day after sightings of possible wreckage captured by Thai and Japanese satellites in roughly the same frigid expanse of sea as earlier images reported by France, Australia and China.

"We detected floating objects, perhaps more than 300," Anond Snidvongs, the head of Thailand's space technology development agency, told Reuters on Thursday. "We have never said that the pieces are part of MH370 but have so far identified them only as floating objects."

The U.S. Navy said on Friday it was sending a second P8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft to help in the search.

"It's critical to continue searching for debris so we can reverse-forecast the wind, current and sea state since March 8th to recreate the position where MH370 possibly went into the water," said Commander Tom Moneymaker, a U.S. 7th Fleet oceanographer.

The United States has also sent a device that can be towed behind a ship to pick up faint pings from the plane's black box voice and data recorders, but time is running out.

"We've got to get this initial position right prior to deploying the Towed Pinger Locator since the MH370's black box has a limited battery life and we can't afford to lose time searching in the wrong area," Moneymaker said.

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, some of the firms and state media said.

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A woman looks at messages dedicated to passengers aboard the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 and their family members, while Malaysian government officials hold a briefing to the family members in Beijing. (Reuters)

Families of some Chinese passengers on missing Malaysia Airlines plane get insurance payouts

Chinese insurance companies have started to pay compensation to the families of passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane presumed crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.

China Life, the country's largest insurance company, has compensated the families of seven passengers a total of 4.17 million yuan ($671,600), Chen Honghao, an official from China Life's department of planning told Reuters by telephone on Friday.

China Life had 32 clients on the flight and estimates its total compensation would be 8.94 million yuan, Chen said.

Malaysian jet search resumes, US sends second Poseidon plane

An air search of the remote southern Indian Ocean resumed on Friday, seeking to confirm if hundreds of objects spotted by satellites are debris from a Malaysian jetliner presumed to have crashed almost three weeks ago with the loss of all on board.

A Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 took off from Perth before dawn, heading 2,500 km (1,550 miles) southwest into the search area where high winds and icy weather had halted flights on Thursday.

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A relative of a passenger aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 reacts after hearing a briefing from Malaysian government officials at the Lido Hotel in Beijing. (Reuters)