Cluster of orange sea objects not linked to missing Malaysia jet

Disappointing update comes as Australian PM says hunt could continue indefinitely


A cluster of orange objects spotted by a search plane hunting for any trace of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet has turned out to be nothing more than fishing equipment, Australian officials said.

The latest disappointing news came as Australia’s prime minister said the hunt could continue indefinitely.

The crew of an Australian P-3 Orion search plane spotted at least four orange objects that were more than two metres in size yesterday, and the pilot called the sighting the most promising lead so far in the search for Flight 370.

But today, Jesse Platts, a spokesman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, said the objects had been analysed and officials had confirmed “they have nothing to do with the missing flight”.

It is a frustrating pattern that has developed in the hunt for the Boeing 777, which vanished on a night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8th with 239 people aboard.

Search crews have repeatedly spotted multiple objects floating in remote patches of the southern Indian Ocean, only for officials to later confirm they are not linked to the missing jet.

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott today acknowledged the search was incredibly complex, but said officials were “well, well short” of any point where they would scale the hunt back.

On Wednesday, Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak plans to travel to Perth to see the search operations first-hand.

The search for Flight 370 has evolved over the past three weeks as experts sifted through a limited set of radar and satellite data, moving gradually from the seas off Vietnam, to waters west of Malaysia and Indonesia, and then to several areas west of Australia.

“This is an extraordinarily difficult exercise... we are searching a vast area of ocean and we are working on quite limited information,” said Mr Abbott, adding that the best brains in the world and all the technological mastery available is being applied to the task.

“If this mystery is solvable, we will solve it,” he said.

The search that has been going on for more than three weeks is operating on guestimates, he added, “until we locate some actual wreckage from the aircraft and then do the regression analysis that might tell us where the aircraft went into the ocean”.

Ten planes were either over the search zone or heading there by late this afternoon local time, and another 11 ships were scouring the area, about 1,150 miles west of Australia.

More than 100 flight personnel and 1,000 sailors were involved in the hunt, with some sections of the 98,000 sq mile search zone expected to experience low clouds and rain. It takes planes about two-and-a-half hours to get to the area, allowing a five-hour search before they must return to Perth.

Former Australian defence chief Angus Houston today began his job of heading the new Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre, which will oversee communication with international agencies involved in the search.

The Perth-based centre will position Australia to shoulder more of Malaysia’s co-ordination responsibilities as the search drags on.

Mr Houston will also play a prime co-ordination role when victims’ families travel to Australia in the weeks ahead.

Mr Abbott said he was not putting a time limit on the search. He said: “We owe it to everyone to do whatever we reasonably can, and we can keep searching for quite some time to come... and, as I said, the intensity of our search and the magnitude of operations is increasing, not decreasing.”

The Ocean Shield, an Australian warship which is carrying a US device that can detect pings from flight recorders, was expected to leave Perth this evening for the search zone, a trip that will take three to four days.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is co-ordinating the search, said it would first conduct sea trials this afternoon to test the search equipment on board.

The search area remains vast, so investigators are hoping in the first place to find debris floating on the ocean surface that will help them calculate where the plane crashed into the water.

Meanwhile, several dozen Chinese relatives of Flight 370 passengers visited a Buddhist temple near Kuala Lumpur today to pray for their loved ones.

Buddhist nuns handed out prayer beads to them. “You are not alone,” one nun said. “You have the whole world’s love, including Malaysia’s.”

Several of the relatives were overcome with emotion, tears streaming down their faces.

The family members later made a brief statement to journalists, expressing their appreciation to the Chinese government and the people of Malaysia and the volunteers who have been assisting them. They bowed as a show of gratitude, but also said they were still demanding answers.

“To those who are guilty of harming our loved ones, hiding the truth, and delaying the search and rescue, we will also definitely not forgive them,” said a family representative, Jiang Hui.

The relatives’ comments were seen as a small conciliatory move after they staged an angry protest in front of reporters yesterday at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur.

At the time, they chanted slogans, raised banners and called on the Malaysian government to apologise over the handling of the disaster.

Press Association