* Search area widens to take into account French satellite
* Weather conditions forecast to deteriorate
* Chinese, Japanese aircraft joining international search
* NASA also says joining search effort
By Matt Siegel and Niluksi Koswanage
PERTH/KUALA LUMPUR, March 24 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 kilometres 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
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 metres long (74ft) and 13 metres (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 metres
long and 14 metres wide at its base, according to estimates
derived from publicly available scale drawings. Its fuselage is
63.7 metres long by 6.2 metres wide.
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
"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 favourable 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
(Additional reporting by Irene Klotz. Writing by Jane Wardell.
Editing by Dean Yates)