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Clues to plane’s whereabouts mount as flotilla converges

March 24, 2014 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59A flotilla of ships assisted by search aircraft is this morning converging a remote area of the Southern Ocean about 2500 kilometres south of Perth in the hope of sighting and eventually retrieving debris from the crashed Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

China released in the weekend a satellite image showing a large object floating near the search zone. A French satellite has spotted similar debris, with details being sent to Australian search authorities last night. Planes left Western Australia this morning for the area.

ABC News contacted a maritime deep-sea salvage expert who worked on retrieving the wreckage of Air France flight AF447, which crashed into the Atlantic on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009. The expert examined the Chinese satellite photo and concluded that the floating object was the same one shown in the photograph released by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott several days earlier, taken by a US commercial satellite.

The object, which appears to be white, had drifted farther south in the interval between the two satellite photos.Mystery object in ocean

Four civilian jets and four military aircraft, including from China and Japan, arrived yesterday in the search zone and Chinese naval ships are on the way.

Abbott revealed earlier that one aircraft sighted a floating wooden pallet, possibly with straps or belts and some other small flotsam. Missing flight MH370 had wooden pallets aboard, but they are also widely used in cargo shipping.

The floating material is taking some time to find.

Problems include:

  • Weather is the search zone is bad, with fog, poor visibility and a cyclone in the area.
  • The search zone is so remote that by the time planes reach it, they have only two or three hours before having to head back.
  • Satellite sightings are several days old when passed on to searchers. Fast currents in the area can move floating objects about 80 kilometres a day.

If anything is found floating that definitely came from the missing flight – especially if it turns out to be a chunk of fuselage or another part of the aircraft – it will show that the flight crashed somewhere in the vicinity. The search would then shift to finding the “black box” flight recorders. The underwater locator signals on those have less than two weeks battery life left and they may never be found.

Any piece of plane identified and retrieved would at least show the plane crashed in the sea, giving some measure of closure to relatives of passengers, who at last could begin to grieve.

Until now, the lack of information about what happened, and endess theories about where the plane might be, have nurtured desperate hopes. Some relatives admit they are still clinging to the notion that the plane might have landed safely somewhere and their loved ones could be still alive and waiting.

Written by Peter Needham

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