Malaysia flight MH370: New data ‘shows possible debris’

The search teams look away from the ocean only occasionally to rest their eyes, as Jonathan Head reports

New data from a French satellite shows potential debris from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean, France’s foreign ministry says.

Radar echoes had picked up several objects about 2,300km (1,430 miles) from Perth, a statement added.

It is the third possible sighting in the area off western Australia that has become the focus of the search effort.

Flight MH370 disappeared on 8 March while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with 239 people on board.

Malaysian officials believe the plane was deliberately taken off course.

Based on information received from a satellite, the search has been in two distinct corridors – one stretching to the north-west of the last known location in the Malacca Straits and one to the south-west.

“Malaysia immediately relayed these images to the Australian rescue co-ordination centre.”

An unnamed Malaysian official told the Associated Press that the new satellite image was taken on Friday, and that one of the potential objects was estimated to be about the same size as one spotted by a Chinese satellite that appeared to be 22m (72ft) by 13m (43ft).

The possible debris was located about 930km (575 miles) north of where the objects reported by China and Australia over the past week, the official added.

“There were no sightings of significance,” a statement said. “The search area experienced early sea fog particularly in the western areas, however conditions improved during the day.”

Amsa said the four military and four civilian aircraft involved in Sunday’s search effort had covered a total of 59,000 sq km (22, 780 sq miles) south-west of Perth. Chinese military Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft and Japanese P-3C Orion aircraft would join the search on Monday, it added.

HMAS Success, an Australian navy supply ship, also took part in Sunday’s operation.

A key focus on Sunday was the sighting on Saturday of a wooden cargo pallet, along with belts or straps.

Mike Barton, operations co-ordinator at Amsa, said: “Part of the description was a wooden pallet and a number of other items which were nondescript around it and some belts of some different colours around it as well, strapping belts of different lengths.”

He added: “We tried to re-find that yesterday, one of the New Zealandaircraft, and unfortunately they didn’t find it. That’s the nature of it – you only have to be off by a few hundred metres in a fast-travelling aircraft.”

Pallets are used for shipping as well as plane cargo and Mr Barton urged caution, saying the sighting “could be anything”.

Australia PM Tony Abbott: “There is increasing hope that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen to this ill-fated aircraft”

“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,” he said.

On Saturday, China released a satellite image showing an object floating in the southern Indian Ocean near to the area already being searched, some 2,500 km (1,550 miles) south-west of Perth.

The grainy image was released by China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.

The Xinhua state news agency said the image was taken at about 04:00 GMT on 18 March and showed objects about 120km “south by west” from the site of possible debris shown in another satellite image from 16 March.

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein put a message on his Twitter account on Sunday urging a “prayer please” for the passengers and crew on flight MH370.

Relatives and friends are still waiting anxiously for news in hotels in Beijing and Malaysia.

In the Everly Hotel in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Kamariah Sharif, the mother of missing passenger Mohamad Razahan Zamani, told Reuters: “Allah give me strength and guidance, I can’t tell you how much I miss my son. This has gone on so long. I pray that he is safe.”

In Beijing, Wang Zheng, whose father and mother were on the plane, told Associated Press: “I can’t eat, I can’t sleep. I’ve been dreaming of my parents every day.”