Aircraft and ships plowed through dire weather yesterday in search of objects floating in remote seas off Australia that Malaysia’s government called a “credible lead” in the trans-continental hunt for a jetliner missing for nearly two weeks.
The large objects, which Australian officials said were spotted by satellite four days ago in one of the remotest parts of the globe, are the most promising find in days, as searchers scour a vast area for the plane lost with 239 people on board.
A Norwegian merchant ship arrived in the area yesterday, but officials said it could take days to confirm whether the objects were parts of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777. The Kuala Lumpur government said the search would continue elsewhere despite the sighting in the southern Indian Ocean.
The area where the objects were spotted is about 2,500km southwest of Perth, roughly corresponding to the far end of a southern track that investigators calculated the aircraft could have taken after it was diverted.
“Yesterday I said that we wanted to reduce the area of the search. We now have a credible lead,” Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
“There remains much work to be done to deploy the assets. This work will continue overnight,” he said.
A search for the plane that began in the tropical waters off Malaysia’s east coast has now switched to the vast, icy southern oceans between Australia, southern Africa and Antarctica.
There have been many false leads and no confirmed wreckage found from Flight MH370 since it vanished from air traffic control screens off Malaysia’s east coast early on March 8, less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.
Hishammuddin said the information on the objects received from Australia had been “corroborated to a certain extent” by other satellites, making it more credible than previous leads.
The larger of the objects measured up to 24m long and appeared to be floating in water several thousand meters deep, Australian officials said. The second object was about 5m long. Arrows on the images pointed to two indistinct objects apparently bobbing in the water.
“It’s credible enough to divert the research to this area on the basis it provides a promising lead to what might be wreckage from the debris field,” Royal Australian Air Force Air Commodore John McGarry told a news conference in Canberra.
The satellite images, provided by US company DigitalGlobe, were taken on Sunday, meaning that the possible debris could by now have drifted far from the original site.
Australian officials said an aircraft had dropped a series of marker buoys in the area, which will provide information about currents to assist in calculating the latest location.
The captain of the first Australian air force AP-3C Orion plane to return from the search area described the weather conditions as “extremely bad” with rough seas and high winds.
“The weather conditions were such that we were unable to see for very much of the flight today, but the other aircraft that are searching, they may have better conditions,” Flight Lieutenant Chris Birrer told reporters.
At least one aircraft, a Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion, was still in the search area, while other aircraft, including a US Navy P-8 Poseidon, were returning to Perth, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.