Hunt for Malaysia’s MH370 resumes in calmer seas
Two ships and 12 planes scour remote waters of the Indian Ocean for remains of missing Malaysia Airlines jet
The hunt for the remains of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 resumed on Wednesday as the weather calmed, amid warnings that searchers face hurdles ranging from underwater volcanoes to hostile seas.
Tuesday's gale-force winds died down, allowing a total of 12 planes and two ships from the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand to resume their search in the remote waters of the Indian Ocean off western Australia.
Infographic: Spotted: Remnants of Flight MH370 in Indian Ocean
Experts warned there was no guarantee that the unprecedented international search would succeed in retrieving wreckage of the doomed flight.
University of New South Wales oceanographer Erik van Sebille said the crash site was in an area known as “the Roaring Forties”, notorious among mariners for its hostile seas.
“In general, this is the windiest and waviest part of the ocean,” he told AFP. “In winter, if a storm passes by you can expect waves of 10-15 metres.”
The Soufan Group, a US-based strategic security intelligence consultancy, said searching for debris in such conditions was like “finding a drifting needle in a chaotic, colour-changing, perception-shifting, motion-sickness-inducing haystack”.
“A random wave might obscure the object when the eyes pass over it; sun glare off the water may blind momentarily; a look two degrees to the left when the object is most visible may cause the moment to pass,” it said.
Geologist Robin Beaman said an “extremely active” range of underwater volcanoes would probably hamper efforts to recover the black box flight recorder from the depths.
Although officials sharply narrowed the search zone based on the last satellite signals received from the Boeing 777, it was still estimated at 1.6 million square kilometers (622,000 square miles), an area bigger than Texas and Oklahoma combined.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Nine network television on Wednesday: “We’re throwing everything we have at this search.”
“This is about the most inaccessible spot imaginable. It’s thousands of kilometers from anywhere, but nevertheless, we are the closest nation. We are a capable nation. We will do what we can to solve this riddle,” he later told Seven Network television.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which coordinates the search on Malaysia’s behalf, said Wednesday’s search will focus on 80,000 square kilometers (30,900 square miles) of ocean. The search area is about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth.
Australia's deputy defense chief, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, told reporters in Perth, the Australian west coast city that is the staging point for the search, that it is a massive challenge.
“We’re not searching for a needle in a haystack – we’re still trying to define where the haystack is,” he said.
New satellite images emerged on Wednesday that revealed more than 100 objects in the southern Indian Ocean that could be debris from the missing jet.
“It must be emphasized that we cannot tell whether the potential objects are from MH370,” Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s acting transport minister, was quoted as saying by Reuters. “Nevertheless, this is another new lead that will help direct the search operation.”
The images were captured by France-based Airbus Defence & Space on Monday and showed 122 potential objects in a 400 sq km (155 sq mile) area of ocean, Hishammuddin said. The objects varied in size from one metre to 23 metres (75 ft) in length, he said.
Hishammuddin added that Malaysia's government will be judged favorably by posterity over handling of the MH370 crisis.
The government has come under international criticism for its handling of the unexplained disappearance of the plane, accused of issuing contradictory statements and wasting time.
“I think history will judge us well,” Hishammuddin said.
"Anybody who has gone through this, what we have gone through... has indicated to me that we have done quite an admirable job."
Malaysia announced Monday that an analysis of satellite data received after Flight 370 left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8 indicated the plane had gone down in the Indian Ocean, killing all 239 people aboard.
But that finding did not answer troubling questions about why the plane was so far off-course. China, home to 153 of the passengers, demanded that Malaysia turn over the satellite data used to determine the plane’s fate.
The airline’s chairman, Mohammed Nor Mohammed Yusof, said it may take time for further answers to become clear.
“The investigation still underway may yet prove to be even longer and more complex than it has been since March 8th,” he said.
The black box
The search for the wreckage and the plane’s flight data and cockpit voice recorders could take years because the ocean can extend to up to 7,000 meters (23,000 feet) deep in some parts. It took two years to find the black box from an Air France jet that went down in the Atlantic Ocean on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009, and searchers knew within days where the crash site was.
There is a race against the clock to find Flight 370’s black boxes, whose battery-powered “pinger” could stop sending signals within two weeks. The batteries are designed to last at least a month.
David Ferreira, an oceanographer at the University of Reading in Britain, said little is known about the detailed topography of the seabed where the plane is believed to have crashed.
“We know much more about the surface of the moon than we do about the ocean floor in that part of the Indian Ocean,” Ferreira said.
The satellite information did not provide an exact location - only a rough estimate of where the jet went down, and Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the data is still being analyzed “to attempt to determine the final position of the aircraft” and that an international working group of satellite and aircraft performance experts had been set up.
The lack of physical evidence and what is thought to be a lack of reliable information from Malaysian officials has resulted in a torrent of criticism from relatives of the passengers.
In Beijing on Tuesday, nearly 100 relatives and their supporters marched to the Malaysian Embassy, where they threw plastic water bottles, tried to rush the gate and chanted, “Liars!”
Many wore white T-shirts that read “Let’s pray for MH370.” They held banners and shouted, “Tell the truth! Return our relatives!”
Police briefly scuffled with a group of relatives who tried to approach journalists. The relatives demanded to see the Malaysian ambassador, and they later met with him.
In a clear statement of support for the families, Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered a special envoy to Kuala Lumpur to deal with the case, and Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng told Malaysia’s ambassador that China wanted to know exactly what led to the announcement that the plane had been lost, a statement on the ministry’s website said.
The conclusions were based on an analysis of the brief signals the plane sent every hour to a satellite belonging to Inmarsat, a British company, even after other communication systems on the jetliner shut down for unknown reasons.
Investigators will be looking at various possibilities, including mechanical or electrical failure, hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.
“We do not know why. We do not know how. We do not know how the terrible tragedy happened,” Malaysia Airlines’ chief executive, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, told reporters.
(With The Associated Press, AFP and Reuters)
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