Chinese satellite spots potential debris from missing plane

Search crews investigate after images reveal object which could be from MH370

Sat, Mar 22, 2014, 13:55

China said today it had a new satellite image of what could be wreckage from a missing Malaysian airliner, as more planes and ships headed to join an international search operation scouring some of the remotest seas on Earth.

The latest possible lead came as the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 entered its third week, with still no confirmed trace found of the Boeing 777 or the 239 people on board.

The new potential sighting was dramatically announced by Malaysia’s acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, after he was handed a note with details during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, scooping the official announcement from China.

“Chinese ships have been dispatched to the area,” Mr Hishammuddin told reporters. China said the object was 22 metres long and 13 metres wide, and spotted around 120 km “south by west” of potential debris reported by Australia off its west coast in the forbidding waters of the southern Indian Ocean.

The image was captured by the high-definition Earth observation satellite Gaofen-1 early on March 18th, two days after the Australian satellite picture was taken, China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) said on its website.

There was no official comment on whether the two images could show the same object. Flight MH370 vanished from civilian radar screens early on March 8th, less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on a scheduled flight to Beijing. Investigators believe someone on board shut off the plane’s communications systems, and partial military radar tracking showed it turning west and re-crossing the Malay Peninsula, apparently under the control of a skilled pilot.

That has led them to focus on hijacking or sabotage, but they have not ruled out technical problems.

Since Australia announced the first image of what could be parts of the aircraft on Thursday, the international search for the plane has focused on an expanse of ocean more than 2,000km southwest of Perth. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said one of its aircraft reported sighting a number of “small objects” with the naked eye, including a wooden pallet, within a radius of 5km.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion aircraft took a closer look but only reported seeing clumps of seaweed. It dropped a marker buoy to track the movement. “A merchant ship in the area has been tasked to relocate and seek to identify the material,” AMSA said in a statement.

The search area experienced good weather conditions on Saturday with visibility of around 10 kilometres and moderate seas. Australia, which is coordinating the rescue, has cautioned the objects in the satellite image might be a lost shipping container or other debris, and may have sunk since the picture was taken.

“Even though this is not a definite lead, it is probably more solid than any other lead around the world and that is why so much effort and interest is being put into this search,” deputy prime minister Warren Truss told reporters, before latest Chinese image was reported.