Chinese ships trawled a new area in the Indian Ocean for a missing Malaysian passenger jet yesterday, as the search for Flight MH370 entered its fourth week amid a series of false dawns over sightings of debris.
Australian authorities coordinating the operation moved the search 1,100km north on Friday after new analysis of radar and satellite data concluded the Malaysia Airlines plane traveled faster and for a shorter distance after vanishing from civilian radar screens on March 8.
A Chinese military aircraft yesterday spotted three suspicious objects in the new search area 1,850km west of Perth, colored white, red and orange respectively, Xinhua news agency said.
That sighting follows reports of “multiple objects of various colors” by international flight crews on Friday, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. Some looked like they were from fishing boats and nothing could be confirmed until they were recovered by ships, it added.
“We’re hopeful to relocate some of the objects we were seeing yesterday,” Royal New Zealand Air Force Squadron Leader Flight Lieutenant Leon Fox told reporters before flying out to the search zone on an Orion P-3. “Hopefully some of the ships in the area will be able to start picking it up and give us an indication of what we were seeing.”
The Chinese navy vessel Jinggangshan, which carries two helicopters, reached the new search area early yesterday where it was expected to focus on searching for plane surfaces, oil slicks and life jackets in a sea area of about 6,900km2, Xinhua reported. Another four Chinese vessels and one from Australia were on the way, but would not arrive until late in the day.
Malaysia says the Boeing 777, which vanished less than an hour into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was likely diverted deliberately, but investigators have turned up no apparent motive or other red flags among the 227 passengers or the 12 crew.
US officials close to the investigation said the FBI found nothing illuminating in data it had received from computer equipment used by MH370’s pilots, including a home-made flight simulator.
The search has involved more than two dozen countries and 60 aircraft and ships, but has been bedeviled by regional rivalries and an apparent reluctance to share potentially crucial information due to security concerns.
Two Malaysian military aircraft which arrived in Perth yesterday are expected to join the search party for the first time today.
The Malaysian government has come under strong criticism from China, home to more than 150 of the passengers, where relatives of the missing have accused the government of “delays and deception.”
More than 20 Chinese relatives yesterday staged a brief protest outside the Lido hotel in Beijing where families have been staying for the past three weeks, demanding evidence of the plane’s fate.
Malaysian Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said his country was committed to seeing the investigation through to its final conclusion.
“What they want from us is a commitment to continue the search, and that I have given, not only on behalf of the Malaysian government, but the so many nations involved,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur after speaking with families yesterday.