Australia resumes remote ocean search for plane debris

Australia resumes remote ocean search for plane debris
A Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion aircraft takes off to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, from RAAF Base Pearce north of Perth March 21, 2014.

PERTH, Australia, March 21, 2014 (AFP) - Australia resumed the search Friday for possible wreckage from a missing Malaysian jetliner in a remote, storm-swept stretch of the Indian Ocean, hoping for better weather as spotters seek to identify the objects shown on grainy satellite images.

Nearly two weeks after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished from civilian radar over the South China Sea, the search focus has switched to an isolated section of ocean 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth.

Satellite images have emerged showing two indistinct floating objects in the area - the largest estimated at 24 metres (79 feet) across - which Australia and Malaysia have described as "credible" leads.

Five aircraft were taking part in Friday's operations - three Australian air force P-3 Orions, a US Navy P-8 Poseidon and a civil Bombardier Global Express jet.

Hampering the effort is the distance from the west coast of Australia, which allows the planes only about two hours of actual search time before they must return to Perth.

A Norwegian merchant ship is already helping scour the search area, but Australia's HMAS Success, which is capable of retrieving any wreckage, was still days away.

Break in the weather

Poor weather has compounded the difficulty in finding the objects. Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said rain showers eased Friday but that drizzle, low cloud cover and reduced visibility would continue.

Although Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott cautioned that the objects may yet prove to be the latest in a number of false leads, his announcement of the satellite image analysis galvanised a search that had seemed stuck in a downward spiral of frustration and recrimination.

The nature of the events that diverted MH370 from its intended flight path on March 8 remain shrouded in mystery, although Malaysian investigators have stuck to their assumption that it was the result of a "deliberate action" by someone on board.

Three scenarios have gained particular attention: hijacking, pilot sabotage, and a sudden mid-air crisis that incapacitated the flight crew and left the plane to fly on auto-pilot for several hours until it ran out of fuel and crashed.

If the objects in the remote southern Indian Ocean are shown to have come from MH370, some analysts believe the hijacking theory will lose ground.

"The reasonable motives for forcing the plane to fly there are very, very few," Gerry Soejatman, a Jakarta-based independent aviation analyst, told AFP.

Next >> 'A lonely, lonely place'

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