By: Jane Wardell & Siva Govindasamy
Aircraft and ships ploughed through dire weather Thursday in search of objects floating in remote seas off Australia that is believed to be a “credible lead” in the hunt for the Malaysian Airlines jet missing for nearly two weeks.
The large objects, which Australian officials said were spotted by satellite four days ago in one of the remotest parts of the globe, are the most promising find in days as searchers scour a vast area for the plane lost with 239 people on board.
A Norwegian merchant ship arrived in the area on Thursday, but officials cautioned it could take days to confirm if the objects were part of the Boeing 777. The area where the objects were spotted is around 2,500 km southwest of Perth, roughly corresponding to the far end of a southern track investigators calculated the aircraft could have taken after it was diverted.
Two Royal Australia Air Force AP-3C Orions, a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon and a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion were involved in Thursday’s search.
Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said information received from Australia had been “corroborated to a certain extent” by other satellites, making it more credible than previous leads.
The larger of the objects measured up to 24 metres long and appeared to be floating in water several thousand metres deep, Australian officials said. The second object was about five metres long. Arrows on the images pointed to two indistinct objects apparently bobbing in the water.
The satellite images, provided by U.S. company DigitalGlobe, were taken on March 16, meaning the possible debris could by now have drifted far from the original site. Australian officials said an aircraft had dropped a series of marker buoys in the area, which will provide information about currents to assist in calculating the latest location.
A Norwegian car carrier diverted from its journey from Madagascar to Melbourne and had arrived in the search area.
The discovery of the floating objects was revealed by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
“The task of locating these objects will be extremely difficult and it may turn out they are not related to the search for MH370,” he told parliament.
The dimensions of the objects given are consistent with at least one of them possibly being the major part of a 777-200ER wing, which is around 27 metres long, though Australian officials cautioned the first images were indistinct.
The relatively large size of the objects would suggest that, if they do come from the missing aircraft, it was largely intact when it went into the water.
If the plane had run out of fuel, it would not necessarily have plummeted but its behaviour would have depended on whether there was someone in control and their intentions, pilots said.
If the debris is from the plane, investigators would face a daunting task to retrieve the “black box” data and voice recorders needed to help understand what caused the disaster.