Search resumes for missing airplane

ANOTHER COMPLICATION::The search area covers a chain of undersea volcanoes, which means the ocean floor there is constantly being reshaped by magma flows

AFP, PERTH, Australia, and KUALA LUMPUR

Thu, Mar 27, 2014 - Page 5

Planes and ships yesterday converged on the southern Indian Ocean, resuming the hunt for wreckage from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 after weather conditions improved, as grieving passengers’ families demand answers about the ill-fated jet.

Gale force winds, driving rain and mountainous seas prevented any sorties being flown from Perth on Tuesday, but 12 aircraft were deployed yesterday, with South Korean planes joining the hunt for the first time.

“Today’s search is split into three areas within the same proximity, covering a cumulative 80,000 square kilometers,” said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is coordinating the operation.

Australian naval vessel the HMAS Success, which was forced to leave the storm-tossed region, has returned and was conducting a surface sweep of a zone where two objects were spotted this week.

AMSA said four Chinese ships had also reached the search area, in the quest to find physical proof that the jet went down in the remote seas, and clues as to why it veered off course and vanished on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew on board.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday said the search — now in a recovery phase — would continue until there was no hope of finding anything.

“It is not absolutely open-ended but it is not something we will lightly abandon,” he said ahead of a moment of silence in parliament in Canberra for victims of the doomed flight, which included six Australians.

“The crash zone is about as close to nowhere as it’s possible to be, but it’s closer to Australia than anywhere else,” he added.

In another complication, experts warned that a chain of undersea volcanoes runs directly through the search area, meaning the ocean floor is extremely rugged and constantly being reshaped by magma flows.

“It’s very unfortunate if that debris has landed on the active crest area, it will make life more challenging,” said Robin Beaman, an underwater geology expert at Queensland’s James Cook University.

“It’s rugged, it’s covered in faults, fine-scale gullies and ridges, there isn’t a lot of sediment blanketing that part of the world because it’s fresh [in geological terms],” he said.

Abbott said “a considerable amount” of suspected debris had been sighted since the search began, although none has yet been retrieved.

“We are confident that some will be,” he added.

Malaysia Airlines has confirmed that the battery which powers the plane’s black box will emit a locator signal of 30 days, once activated by contact with water, giving searchers less than two weeks to find a crash site.

Those efforts will be crucial in determining what caused the Boeing 777 to deviate inexplicably off its intended course between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, and fly thousands of kilometers in the wrong direction.

Two-thirds of the passengers were Chinese, and relatives there have accused Malaysia of being deceitful and callous in their handling of the tragedy.

Scores of emotional relatives mounted a protest on Malaysia’s embassy in Beijing on Tuesday, scuffling with guards and abusing the ambassador as they demanded to know what happened to their loved ones.

Malaysian authorities have defended their decision to release satellite analysis that determined the plane had plunged into the southern seas far off western Australia, possibly running out of fuel.

On Tuesday, they made public more details of the data used to conclude that the plane was lost.

It said the last complete contact between a satellite that was “pinging” signals to the flight came at 8:11am Malaysian time, with another “partial” signal eight minutes later.

In related news, a US law firm yesterday said it has started “multi-million dollar” legal proceedings against Malaysia Airlines and Boeing over flight MH370, in what could mark the start of an expensive legal battle over the lost plane.

Chicago-based Ribbeck Law Chartered International said it filed a court petition in Illinois on Tuesday, seeking documents pertaining to possible design or mechanical defects or conduct by the airline that may have led to the disaster.

“We believe that both defendants named are responsible for the disaster of Flight MH370,” the firm said in a statement released in Kuala Lumpur.

The legal action was filed on behalf of Januari Siregar, “a lawyer who lost his son in the terrible crash,” the firm said. It gave no further details on the plaintiff.