Search area for Malaysian airliner widened after French satellite images

PERTH/KUALA LUMPUR Sun Mar 23, 2014 6:55pm EDT

1 of 15. Leading Seaman Luke Horsburgh stands watch during his duty as Quartermaster on the bridge of the Australian Navy ship HMAS Success after it arrived in the search area for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this picture released by the Australian Defence Force on March 23, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Australian Defence Force/Handout via Reuters

PERTH/KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - The search area for a missing Malaysian jetliner in remote seas off Australia was widened on Monday after French satellite images revealed potential "floating debris" several hundred kilometers north of pictures previously captured by U.S. and Chinese satellites.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said the new lead in the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was promising, but cautioned that the search in the icy southern Indian Ocean remained difficult.

"It's a lot of water to look for just perhaps a tiny object," Truss told ABC Radio. "Today we expect the weather to deteriorate and the forecast ahead is not that good so it's going to be a challenge, but we will stick at it."

Truss said the object spotted by a French satellite, which was reported to Malaysia on Sunday, was 850 km (528 miles) north of the current search areas for the Boeing 777 that vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board.

"That's not in the area that had been identified as the most likely place where the aircraft had entered the sea," Truss said.

Australia had used a U.S. satellite image of two floating objects to frame a search area some 2,500 km (1,430 miles) southwest of Perth.

Flight MH370 vanished from civilian radar screens less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on a scheduled flight to Beijing. Most of the passengers were Chinese.

A total of 10 planes, including Chinese military Ilyushin IL-76 and Japanese P-3C aircraft joining the search for the first time, are due to sweep a 68,000 sq km area on Monday.

The crews are zeroing in on the areas around where the earlier sightings were made in an effort to find the object identified by China and other small debris, including a wooden pallet, spotted by a search plane on Saturday.

China said the object it had seen on the satellite image was 22 meters long (74ft) and 13 meters (43ft) wide.

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.

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

NASA INVOLVED

NASA said it would use high-resolution cameras aboard satellites and the International Space Station to look for possible crash sites in the Indian Ocean. The U.S. space agency is also mining archived images collected by instruments on its Terra and Aqua environmental satellites, said NASA spokesman Allard Beutel.

"Our satellites and space-based cameras are designed for long-term scientific data gathering and Earth observation. They're really not meant to look for a missing aircraft, and obviously NASA isn't a lead agency in this effort. But we're trying to support the search, if possible," Beutel said.

Truss said the aircraft flying on Monday would be focused on searching by sight, rather than radar, which can be tricky to use because of the high seas and wind in the area. Civil aircraft, which can carry more people, have joined the search.

Truss warned that the search could be hampered further by a cyclone in the northern Indian Ocean.

"Clearly it won't be cyclonic when it gets down into the southern waters where we are dealing with this search, but certainly it could stir up less favorable weather ... and looking visibly for debris or anything of interest is the best chance of success," he said.

HIJACK OR SABOTAGE?

Investigators believe someone on the flight 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 investigators 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.

The lack of solid news has meant a prolonged and harrowing wait for families of the passengers, who have complained both in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur about the absence of information, many breaking down with grief.

A Malaysian statement said a "high-level" team briefed relatives in Beijing on Sunday in a meeting that lasted more than six hours.

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

"We still don't even know for certain if the aircraft is in this area," Truss said of the southern Indian Ocean search. "We're just clutching at whatever little piece of information that comes along to try to find the place we can concentrate the efforts."

(Additional reporting by Irene Klotz. Writing by Jane Wardell. Editing by Dean Yates)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (32)
These are not the same ET aliens who worked the Bermuda Triangle in the 1960s. Now they’re dropping pieces of the plane everywhere. Must be an experiment to see how long before we Earth creatures give up the search.

Mar 22, 2014 10:07pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
DavidinWY wrote:
I’ve not left but just a few posts about this missing 777.

The second day of the search, I put out my theory that the entire jet just lost all power to the cockpit, and even with the ram-jet spinning that with all connections cut, the screens are dark, and the fly-by-wire system was lost (dead-stick), no throttles, no comm’s, no A/C. The plane can fly without all those as long as the engines keep working. I still can see this scenario as do many.

Then I tried to say that ice built up in the pitot tubes, confusing the auto pilot, and the A/C controls. The computer thought the plane was flying just above sea level so it wasn’t pressuring the plane, and the autopilot tried to gain altitude untill it climbed above it’s rated ceiling, everyone laughed and scoffed.

I want to also throw out this one last thing, could someone tell me why the forward windscreen blowing out at 35,000 feet, not be at least some possibility?

Or the antenna for the ACARS external mount (recently added to the NTSB for possible cracks that could lead to it break away. It is located forward of the pitot tubes, and would cause loss to pressure in the cargo bay, and the area below the cockpit. It wouldn’t explain the rest, the pilots would have had to lose it, and I don’t subscribe to that theory.

I’m mostly using theories that have already occurred in other crashes, as the rest is pure speculation until the plane is found. If the forward windscreen did explode, anyone not strapped into their seats in the cockpit are gone, even if they were strapped in, the glass would do a lot of injury and leave little time to put masks on, if they were able to wear them, communicating would be impossible and sound like static or interference. There has been a case where one did pop out, it almost took the pilot but the copilot was just able to grab hold of his legs. The pilot was badly injured (and eternally grateful for his copilot) but they got the plane down safely, the pilot hanging outside the plane with his entire body except his legs below his knees! Those windscreens just don’t do that normally, though just like Columbia, and Challenger, little things become catastrophic in an instant.

Mar 22, 2014 12:29am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Bakhtin wrote:
I am not surprise everyone laughed and scoffed. A 777 has mechanical backup and flies without power so your theory doesn’t work. They could simply turn around and land the plane.

The last time a plane lost transponder and ACARS it was an electrical fire. Planes on fire turn towards the nearest landing strip. Sometimes they don’t make it. It would explain everything about MH370 – they lost coms because of a fire maybe before they even realised it, turned towards Langkawi when they did, didn’t make it because they were overcome by smoke and fumes and continued on autopilot until the fuel ran out or the plane fell apart.

No need to invent ice in the tropics, suicidal pilots, terrorists, or exploding windscreens.

Mar 23, 2014 2:01am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

Full focus