Missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370: As underwater scan nears completion, officials say beach debris is not related to lost jet

Tropical Cyclone Jack continues to hamper visual search

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The Independent Online

The authorities leading the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have ruled out any link between the missing jet and debris washed up on a beach in Australia.

The material found on Wednesday by a member of the public was described as looking like sheet metal with distinct rivets, and pictures were sent to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) for further analysis.

Yet despite experts saying that any wreckage from a crash in the southern Indian Ocean would “sooner or later” appear on the west coast where the debris was found, it took officials less than 24 hours to rule out this particular item.

“We're not seeing anything in this that would lead us to believe that it is from a Boeing aircraft,” ATSB commissioner Martin Dolan told ABC News.

A tropical cyclone continues to hamper the efforts of search teams to find debris from the plane on the ocean’s surface, almost seven weeks after the Boeing 777 went missing with 239 people on board.

That puts the focus of the search, the most expensive in aviation history, back on the US Navy’s submersible vehicle Bluefin 21, which will soon finish scouring a 10 square-km (6.2 square-mile) stretch of seabed.

Officials have said that if Bluefin 21 fails to find a trace of the plane in its initial target search area, some 2,000 km (1,200 miles) northwest of Perth, it will be redeployed to new areas, still to be determined.

On Wednesday, Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters that authorities would be “increasing the assets that are available for deep-sea search” and that his government was seeking help from state oil company Petronas which has expertise in deep-sea exploration.

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Search authorities would need to “regroup and restrategise” if nothing was found in the current search zone, but the search would “always continue”, Mr Hishammuddin said.

Australian search officials said up to 11 military aircraft and 11 ships were expected to help with Thursday's search, although authorities would monitor the weather before the sorties commenced.

The airborne aspect of the search has been suspended for the past two days due to adverse weather conditions, with Tropical Cyclone Jack bringing heavy rain, strong winds and rough seas.