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China satellite finds object near jet search area

By Rob Griffith & Scott McDonald / Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:48 p.m. HST, Mar 22, 2014


KUALA LUMPUR >> While possible clues about the fate of a Malaysia Airlines jet missing for more than two weeks keep coming from satellite images, it has been as frustrating as ever to turn the hints from space into actual sightings.

China on Saturday released a satellite image showing an object floating in a remote stretch of the southern Indian Ocean near where planes and ships have been crisscrossing since similar images from an Australian satellite emerged earlier in the week. China's image, showing an object that appeared to be 22 meters (72 feet) by 13 meters (43 feet), was taken around noon Tuesday.

"The news that I just received is that the Chinese ambassador received a satellite image of a floating object in the southern corridor and they will be sending ships to verify," Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters.

Australian officials said the location was within the 36,000-square-kilometer (14,000-square-mile) area they searched on Saturday, but the object was not found. Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman Andrea Hayward-Maher said she did not know whether the precise coordinates of the location had been searched, but added that coordinators will use the information to refine the search area.

The authority, which is overseeing the search in the region, said a civil aircraft reported seeing a number of small objects in the search area, including a wooden pallet, but a New Zealand military plane diverted to the location found only clumps of seaweed. The agency said in a statement that searchers would keep trying to determine whether the objects are related to the lost plane.

Despite the frustrating lack of answers, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Sunday suggested the sightings were a positive development.

"Obviously we have now had a number of very credible leads and there is increasing hope -- no more than hope, no more than hope -- that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen to this ill-fated aircraft," Abbott told reporters in Papua New Guinea.

The latest satellite image is another clue in the baffling search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which dropped off air traffic control screens March 8 over the Gulf of Thailand with 239 people on board.

After about a week of confusion, Malaysian authorities said pings sent by the Boeing 777-200 for several hours after it disappeared indicated that the plane ended up in one of two huge arcs: a northern corridor stretching from Malaysia to Central Asia, or a southern corridor that stretches toward Antarctica.

The discovery of two objects by the Australian satellite led several countries to send planes and ships to a stretch of the Indian Ocean about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Australia. But three days of searching have produced no confirmed signs of the plane.

One of the objects spotted in the earlier satellite imagery was described as 24 meters (almost 80 feet) in length and the other was 5 meters (15 feet).

The Boeing 777-200 is about 64 meters (209 feet) long with a wingspan of 61 meters (199 feet) and a fuselage about 6.2 meters (20 feet) in diameter, according to Boeing's website.

In a statement on its website announcing China's find, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense did not explain why it took four days to release the information. But there was a similar delay in the release of the Australian satellite images because experts needed time to examine them.

Two military planes from China arrived Saturday in Perth and were expected on Sunday to join Australian, New Zealand and U.S. aircraft in the search. Japanese planes will arrive Sunday and ships were in the area or on their way.

Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said the currents in the area typically move at about one meter (yard) per second but can sometimes move faster.

Based on the typical speed, a current could theoretically move a floating object about 173 kilometers (107 miles) in two days.

But even if both satellites detected the same object, it may be unrelated to the plane. One possibility is that it could have fallen off a cargo vessel.

Warren Truss, Australia's acting prime minister while Abbott is abroad, said before the new satellite data was announced that a complete search could take a long time.

"It is a very remote area, but we intend to continue the search until we're absolutely satisfied that further searching would be futile -- and that day is not in sight," he said.

"If there's something there to be found, I'm confident that this search effort will locate it," Truss said from the base near Perth that is serving as a staging area for search aircraft.

Aircraft involved in the search include two ultra-long-range commercial jets and four P3 Orions, the maritime safety authority said.

Because the search area is a four-hour flight from land, the Orions can search for about only two hours before they must fly back. The commercial jets can stay for five hours before heading back to the base.

Two merchant ships were in the area, and the HMAS Success, a navy supply ship, had also joined the search.

A small flotilla of ships from China will also join the hunt, along with a refueling vessel that will allow ships to stay in the search area for a long time, Truss said.

Hishammuddin, the Malaysian defense minister, said conditions in the southern corridor were challenging.

The area where the objects were identified by the Australian authorities is marked by strong currents and rough seas, and the ocean depth varies between 1,150 meters (3,770 feet) and 7,000 meters (23,000 feet). In addition, Hishammuddin said a low-level warning had been declared for Tropical Cyclone Gillian, although that was north of Australia and closer to Indonesia.

The missing plane, which had been bound for Beijing, carried 153 Chinese passengers. In the Chinese capital on Saturday, relatives of the passengers rose up in anger at the end of a brief meeting with Malaysia Airlines and Malaysian government officials.

"You can't leave here! We want to know what the reality is!" they shouted in frustration over what they saw as officials' refusal to answer questions. The relatives gave reporters a statement saying they believe they have been "strung along, kept in the dark and lied to by the Malaysian government."

Malaysian authorities have not ruled out any possible explanation for what happened to the jet, but have said the evidence so far suggests it was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca, with its communications systems disabled. They are unsure what happened next.

Police are considering the possibilities of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or anyone else on board.

Malaysia asked the U.S. for undersea surveillance equipment to help in the search, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel promised to assess the availability of the technology and its usefulness in the search, Kirby said. The Pentagon says it has spent $2.5 million to operate ships and aircraft in the search and has budgeted another $1.5 million for the efforts.

___

Griffith reported from Perth, Australia. Associated Press writers Todd Pitman and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Didi Tang and Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.







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ehowzit wrote:
HOW COME U.S. IS NOT USING UCAVs/DRONES, WHICH CAN ACTUALLY FLY CLOSE TO ANYTHING??
on March 22,2014 | 09:40AM
Hawaii5OhOh wrote:
The US has a submarine fleet that has very sophisticated listening devices to detect other submarines. If these submarines were deployed in the area, the black boxes that are pinging underwater could be found. However, the way the plane flew after it turned around from flying to China (the original flight route) seemed like it was trying to evade radar stations in the area. For example, when it took off, it first headed northeast toward Vietnam (to fly to on to Beijing), but over the Gulf of Thailand, it turned and headed southwest. After it crossed Malaysia/Thailand and in the middle of the Malacca Strait, it briefly turned northeast, and then, turned northwest toward India's Andaman Islands. These turns avoided radar stations over Indonesia, and where it vanished, the plane was not picked up by the Andaman Island radar (or so it hasn't been reported by the media yet). If I was placing bets on where the plane went, I would put money that the plane flew at very low altitude (wave top level) during the day to avoid radar, and head southwest toward Madagascar. The plane would avoid the islands of the Maldives (although fishermen have seen a low flying jet in the area on the day the plane went missing), Diego Garcia (the US and UK military base), and the Seychelles. Most likely if it was a hijack, the jet would have landed on Grande Comore island. The Comoro islands are located northwest of Madagascar, and most of the population are Muslim (98%). A former Al Qaeda leader of east Africa came from the Comoros. For whatever reason the plane was hijacked, whether it was for the plane (to be used on a kamikaze or suicide mission), the heavy cargo (the media reported that it was lithium batteries, but it could have been gold), or the high tech personnel, if I was going to try something and vanish, I would head for the Comoros. If the passengers are being held hostage, it would be extremely difficult to get them back without a full military invasion of the island. By now, the plane would be repainted, but someone on the island would know if something like this was happening. You can't see things like this from a satellite in space. I hope the CIA has people on Grande Comore to verify if such a thing happened.
on March 22,2014 | 10:00AM
Waterman2 wrote:
Up to Bangladesh, not much radar there, to Himalayas and West to no mans land North of Pakistan. Perhaps there on to Iran. For landing and hiding, what ever government in the area would have to be involved. I don't see that plane flying itself to S. India Sea, nor both pilots committing suicide together. Ask why would the hijackers keep it so quiet? Not making demands, ransom, etc. unless they have plans for this missile. Remember that Pakistan has nukes, they sold the designs to Russia, and there is large aggressive Muslim population in both countries. Something to think about..........sure hope our military is allowed to even think about this type scenario.......
on March 22,2014 | 10:19AM
Waterman2 wrote:
The silence from US sources is deafening.
on March 22,2014 | 10:21AM
Knowlege wrote:
I hope we get to the bottom of this soon.
on March 22,2014 | 02:59PM
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