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Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Search called off for day after two pieces of debris spotted floating in Indian Ocean

Initial attempts to identify debris have been hampered by bad weather, and now bad light
  • @AndrewBuncombe

Search and rescue teams have been scouring a remote location four hours from the Australian coast after a satellite spotted two objects that could possibly be linked to missing Flight MH370.

One of the pieces of suspected debris could be as long as 24 metres, but little else is likely to be revealed soon after growing darkness forced officials to call off the search for today.

Earlier John Young, of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), said: “This is a lead. Probably the best lead we have right now. But we need to get there, find them, see them.”

He said a number of ships and planes had been sent to the location, where the water is said to be thousands of feet deep. But he also warned that nothing could be assumed: the spot where the objects were seen was located 1,600 miles south-west from city of Perth and finding anything would be a major challenge. Poor weather was not helping the issue.

Indeed, an insight of just how difficult the weather might be, officials said last night the first plane dispatched – a P3 Orion – had been unable to locate the debris and that cloud and rain had limited its visibility. Given the four-hour journey each way, the planes are limited to a search at the suspected location of just two hours.

Mr Young also reminded anyone desperate for a piece of information 14 days after the Malaysian Airlines plane and its 239 passengers and crew went missing, that the objects might not be related. “We have been in this business of doing search and rescue and using sat images before and they do not always turn out to be related to the search even if they look good, so we will hold our views on that until they are sited close-up,” he said.

The point was reinforced by Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott, when he announced in parliament “new and credible” information had come to light.  A number of sightings of possible debris have previously been investigated in the search for the plane but so far none of them have proved to be linked.

“The task to locate these objects will be extremely difficult and they may not turn out to be linked to the search for Flight 370,” said Mr Abbott, who later spoke with his Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak.

Officials said the objects had been spotted on satellite imagery and that an assessment completed on Thursday by the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation suggested they could be pieces of debris. They were spotted in the area where Australians have been searching in the last two days.

In addition to the Australian assets that were dispatched today, officials said that planes from New Zealand and the US were on their way to the area to help.

australia-search.jpgMalaysia Airlines flight MH370 was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it lost contact with air traffic controllers. Twenty-six nations have been involved in a major search for the missing plane, which Malaysia says was intentionally diverted.

Malaysia’s Transport Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said Mr Abbott had spoken with Mr Najib on Thursday morning and informed him about the objects that had been spotted. “Every effort is being made to locate the objects seen in the satellite imagery. It must be stressed that these sightings, while credible, are still to be confirmed,” he said.

Satellite images of objects in the Indian Ocean which may be from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370

Officials in Australia said a number of aircraft had been sent to the location, four hours flying time from Perth. A Royal Australian Air Force Orion aircraft arrived in the area about 1.50pm local time.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion, a US Navy P8 Poseidon aircraft and another Australian Orion were due to arrive later. A Hercules C130 had been dispatched to drop marker buoys to assist in drift modelling. “They will provide an ongoing reference point if the task of relocating the objects becomes protracted,” said a statement by the AMSA.

In the past two weeks, investigators in Malaysia, assisted by foreign intelligence agencies, have been scrutinising the backgrounds of both the crew and the passengers on the missing jet, but have so far identified no evidence of terror or other potentially relevant links.

A map of the search area for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 currently conducted by AMSA

Investigators had identified two corridors of territory - one to the north and one to the south - spanning the possible positions of the plane more than seven hours after it took off for Beijing. Earlier this week, Australia was asked by Malaysia to take responsibility for the “southern corridor” search.

The plane lost contact with controllers over the South China Sea as it crossed from Malaysian to Vietnamese air space. Malaysian officials say it then turned west and its last position - according to Malaysian military radar - was over the Malacca Straits, in the opposite direction to its planned flight path.

The FBI has been called into assist in trying to recover data deleted from the flight simulator owned by the plane’s chief pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

Mr Hishammuddin, the Transport Minister, said earlier this week that the the captain of the plane should be considered innocent until proved otherwise and said that members of his family were co-operating with the investigation.