Search for MH370 to resume after delay

Last updated 09:59 26/03/2014
MH370
Reuters

ANGRY: Family members of passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines MH370 shout slogans as they march toward the Malaysian embassy in Beijing.

Kiwis search fro MH370
JASON REED Zoom
Pilot Dave Smith (right) gives a pre-flight briefing before taking off to search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, at the RAAF base Pearce near Perth.

Officials report evidence of last 'ping'

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Frustration over the fate of Flight 370 is mounting, with gale-force winds delaying the search in the rough and remote seas off western Australia, and angry relatives shouting "liars", in the streets of Beijing about Malaysia's declaration that the plane went down with all aboard.

Yesterday's bad weather forced a day-long delay by search planes combing a vast expanse of the southern Indian Ocean for any pieces of the Malaysia Airlines jet - tangible evidence for the families seeking closure after more than two weeks of anguished uncertainty.

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 kilometres, an area bigger than Texas and Oklahoma combined.

"We're not searching for a needle in a haystack - we're still trying to define where the haystack is," Australia's deputy defence chief, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, told reporters at a military base in Perth as idle planes stood behind him.

The weather was expected to be better today for the airborne hunt to resume in the area 2500km southwest of Perth.

Malaysia announced yesterday that an analysis of satellite data received after flight MH370 left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8 indicated the plane had gone down in the Indian Ocean, killing all 239 people, including two New Zealanders, aboard.

The finding did not answer troubling questions about why the plane was so far off-course, and 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 under way may yet prove to be even longer and more complex than it has been since March 8th," he said.

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 7000 metres (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 MH370's black boxes, whose battery-powered "pinger" could stop sending signals within two weeks. The batteries are designed to last at least a month.

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The search for the missing  airliner wasn't open-ended but Australia won't lightly abandon efforts to locate the wreckage, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

Up to 12 aircraft were due in the search area today, along with Chinese navy and civilian ships and HMAS Success.

Four RAAF AP-3C Orion aircraft would be involved and another Australian navy vessel would soon join Success, Abbott said.

As well, equipment to recover the aircraft's black box flight recorder was on route from the United States.

Abbott said there was a lot of debris in the area and Australia would keep searching until there was no hope of finding anything.

"We are just going to keep on looking because we owe it to people to do everything we can to resolve this riddle," he told Nine Network.

David Ferreira, an oceanographer at the University of Reading in Britain, said little is known about the detailed topography of the seabed where Malaysia flight MH370 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.

Searching for a needle in a haystack would be simple by comparison, he said.

"This haystack is in the dark, two or three miles underwater, hundreds of miles from land, and in a field no one has even seen before, let alone mapped," Ferreira added.

The satellite information does not provide an exact location - only a rough estimate of where the jet went down.

Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the data is still being analysed "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.

Yesterday's announcement that there were no survivors unleashed sorrow and anger among the victims' families, who have complained bitterly about a lack of reliable information from Malaysian officials.

Nearly 100 relatives and their supporters yesterday marched to the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing, 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, Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui, to Kuala Lumpur to deal with the case. Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng told Malaysia's ambassador that China wanted to know exactly what led Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to announce 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.

Yusof, the airline's chairman, said the conclusion was based on "the evidence given to us, and by rational deduction".

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.

Australian and Chinese search planes spotted floating objects southwest of Perth on Monday, but none was retrieved. With the 24-hour delay in the search, those objects and other possible debris from the plane could drift to an even wider area.

"A visual search will resume tomorrow when the weather is expected to improve after gale-force winds and heavy swells resulted in the suspension of the search operation on Tuesday," said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is overseeing the search out of Perth.

There are 26 countries involved in the search, and Hishammudin said the problems are not diplomatic "but technical and logistical".

"We've got to get lucky," said John Goglia, a former member of the US National Transportation Safety Board. "It's a race to get to the area in time to catch the black box pinger while it's still working."

- AP

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