Fresh hope of finding MH370

Fresh hope of finding MH370

KUALA LUMPUR/PERTH - The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet resumed on Friday in the remote southern Indian Ocean, where satellite images indicated "credible" evidence of large debris.

Military jets were sent there last Thursday, but returned with no new information and will pick up the search today, with Australia saying it may be two to three days before anything more is known.

On Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament, shortly after speaking on the phone with his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak, of "new and credible information" in the search. "The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has received information based on satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search," Mr Abbott said.

He warned that it was possible the debris might turn out not to be related to the missing Flight MH370, which took off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8 with 239 people on board and disappeared on its way to Beijing.

Australian officials have also warned that the objects might be parts of containers.

Poor weather and limited visibility in this area 2,500km south-west of the Australian city of Perth have hampered efforts of spotting the debris from the air.

Australia's Defence Minister David Johnston said it could take two to three days to know anything more definite. Australia cautioned that it may be difficult to find the debris due to ocean drift.

The satellite images, said to be taken six days ago, showed two objects - the larger of which measured 24m and the other 5m - floating in the Indian Ocean.

"We are in a most isolated part of the world. In fact, it probably doesn't get, if I can be so bold, more isolated," said Mr Johnston.

It takes four hours for an aircraft flying out of Perth to reach the area where the debris is located, which one official said is "several thousand metres deep".

Malaysia welcomed the latest news with caution.

Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said it "gives us hope", but stressed that it has to be verified and corroborated, as previous leads with satellite images turned out to be false.

"The information that we have received from the Australian authorities was actually corroborated, to a certain extent, from other satellites. That makes it slightly different from the earlier leads," he said at a press conference.

Investigations suggest MH370 turned back from its easterly route to fly west, and then north- west, before disappearing off military radar. The Boeing 777-200's communications with a satellite, the last of which was made almost seven hours after it lost contact, showed it could be anywhere between the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and the southern Indian Ocean.

Australia directed four long-range surveillance aircraft - including one each from the United States and New Zealand - to the area where the debris was spotted on Thursday. The two Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P-3 Orion aircraft, a Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion and a US Navy P-8 Poseidon have arrived there.

An RAAF C-130 Hercules aircraft was also sent to drop marker buoys to assist in modelling the ocean drifts to help in the search for the debris. A merchant ship also arrived to help after responding to Australia's request. Another merchant ship and the Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Success are on the way.

Datuk Seri Hishammuddin said the search in the other areas was continuing. Asked if it was possible that a catastrophic event could have occurred on board, such as depressurisation rendering everyone unconscious, he said it was not ruled out.

jmenon@sph.com.sg

carolynh@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Yong Yen Nie


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