A satellite image of an object spotted in the southern
Indian Ocean by the Gaofen-1 high-resolution optical Earth
observation satellite. REUTERS/CNS Photo
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
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,"
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 18, 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.
It could not easily be determined from the blurred images
whether the objects were the same, but the Chinese photograph
could depict a cluster of smaller objects, a senior military
officer from one of the 26 nations involved in the search for
the plane said.
The wing of a Boeing 777-200ER is approximately 27 metres
long and 14 metres wide at its base, according to estimates
derived from publicly available scale drawings. Its fuselage
is 63.7 metres long by 6.2 metres wide.
Flight MH370 vanished from civilian radar screens early on
March 8, 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
2000 km 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 5 km.
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 km 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.
China said its icebreaker "Snow Dragon" was heading for the
area, but was still around 70 hours away. Japan and India
were also sending more planes and Australian and Chinese navy
vessels were steaming towards the southern search zone.
But the area is known for rough seas and strong currents, and
Malaysia's Hishammuddin said a cyclone warning had been
declared for Christmas Island, far off to the north.
"There are vessels heading in that direction. They may have
to go through the cyclone," he said.
"Generally, conditions in the southern corridor are very
challenging," said Hishammuddin. "The ocean varies between
1,150 metres and 7,000 metres in depth."
Where the missing plane went after it flew out of range of
Malaysia's military radar off the country's northwest coast
has been one of the most puzzling aspects of what has quickly
become perhaps the biggest mystery in modern aviation
Electronic "pings" detected by a commercial satellite
suggested it flew for another six hours or so, but could do
no better than place its final signal on one of two vast
arcs: a northern corridor from Laos to the Caspian Sea, and a
southern one stretching from Indonesia down to the part of
the Indian Ocean that has become the focal point of the
Malaysia has said the search will continue in both corridors
until confirmed debris is found.
Hishammuddin said that, in response to a formal diplomatic
request from Malaysia, China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Laos,
Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan had all said, based on preliminary
analysis, that there have been no sightings of the aircraft
on their radar.
Aircraft and ships have renewed the search in the Andaman Sea
between India and Thailand, going over areas in the northern
corridor that have already been exhaustively swept.
The Pentagon said it was considering a request from Malaysia
for sonar equipment. The P-8 and P-3 spy planes, which the
United States is already deploying in the search, also carry
"sonobuoys" that are dropped into the sea and use sonar
signals to search the waters below.
The search itself has strained ties between China and
Malaysia, with Beijing repeatedly leaning on the Southeast
Asian nation to step up its hunt and do a better job at
looking after the relatives of the Chinese passengers.
For families of the passengers, the process has proved to be
an emotionally wrenching battle to elicit information.
In a statement on Saturday, relatives in Beijing lambasted a
Malaysian delegation for "concealing the truth" and "making
fools" out of the families after they said they left a
meeting without answering all their questions.
"This kind of conduct neglects the lives of all the
passengers, shows contempt for all their families, and even
more, tramples on the dignity of Chinese people and the
Chinese government," they said.
Some experts have argued that the reluctance to share
sensitive radar data and capabilities in a region fraught
with suspicion amid China's military rise and territorial
disputes may have hampered the search.