MH370: Object 'consistent with wing'

Last updated 06:01 23/03/2014
Reuters

The search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 enters its third week raising more questions than answers. Paul Chapman reports

MH370
China National Space Administration
NEW CLUE: A satellite image taken on March 18, 2014 of an object spotted in the southern Indian Ocean by the Gaofen-1 high-resolution optical Earth observation satellite.

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A Chinese satellite has identified another object in the Indian Ocean that could be from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The object is about 22.5 metres long and 13 metres wide.

The latest image is another clue in the baffling search for  flight MH370, which dropped off air traffic control screens March 8 over the Gulf of Thailand with 239 people on board, including two New Zealanders.

After about a week of confusion, authorities said pings sent by the Boeing 777 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 the two objects on Thursday by the Australian satellite led several countries to send planes and ships to a stretch of the Indian Ocean about 2500 kilometres southwest of Australia. One of the objects spotted in the earlier satellite imagery was described as 24 metres (almost 80 feet) in length and the other was 5 metres. But three days of searching have produced nothing.

In the latest satellite image, the high-definition earth observation satellite Gaofen-1 spotted an object about midnight on March 18, according to China's State Administration of Science Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND).

Chinese ships and planes were heading towards the area on Saturday night.

The New York Times reported the debris was spotted about 120 kilometres from where two objects were seen two days earlier by a commercial satellite.

Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein of Malaysia told reporters that the Chinese "will be sending ships to verify".

Dr John Blaxland, a senior fellow from Australian National University (ANU) said in a telephone interview with media agency, Xinhua, on Saturday that if the measurements of the object were correct, they were consistent with a wing of a Boeing 777 airliner.

Asked about whether the newly spotted object would be the one sighted in an earlier satellite image, Blaxland, from ANU's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, said they don't seem to be the same object.

"It's similar shaped, but if the measurements (are correct), then this is slightly wider," he said.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) appeared to downplay the latest finding, stating it had searched the area earlier on Saturday and sighted no such debris.

But it said further attempts would be made when the search resumed today to establish whether the objects spotted are related to the missing MH370.

It said China provided the satellite image to Australia on Saturday night.

"AMSA has plotted the position and it falls within Saturday's search area. The object was not sighted on Saturday," the statement continued.

Despite that, the search team would take the information into account when plotting today's search plans.

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China's embassy in Kuala Lumpur advised Malaysian authorities of the sighting late on Saturday.

Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein announced the finding after being handed a note during a press briefing where he expressed concern about a category one cyclone forming in the Indian Ocean near Christmas Island.

Ships from China and other nations joining the search may have to pass through the cyclone danger area, Hishammuddin said.

Hishammuddin said conditions in what has been identified as a ''southern corridor'' search area of the Indian Ocean have been extremely challenging with ocean depths as much as 7000 metres.

Malaysian authorities said the transcript of a purported recording of the conversations between the pilots and air traffic control in Kuala Lumpur before MH370 inexplicably turned around over the South China Sea on Match 8 was inaccurate.

But Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director-general of Malaysia's civil aviation department, declined to say how the transcript was inaccurate.

Hishammuddin told journalists investigators are still analysing the conversations and the transcript would not be made public. But he said there did not appear to be anything ''abnormal'' in the conversations.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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