Although there is a credible lead on the missing plane, search and rescue efforts will continue until the aircraft is found.
Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said that the search for the Boeing 777-200 aircraft was continuing and has been intensified despite the Australian government’s announcement this morning that it had satellite images of objects that looked like debris of the plane some 2,500km southwest of Perth on the Indian Ocean.
The Australians are now checking the site but have yet to come up with concrete evidence of the missing plane due to bad weather. The satellite images are learnt to be four days old.
Speaking at his daily press conference on the missing jetliner, Hishammuddin, who is also Defence Minister, said Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak received a call from his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott this morning, informing him that “two possible objects related to the search” for MH370 had been identified in the Southern Indian Ocean.
The Australian authorities in Kuala Lumpur have also briefed Hishmmuddin on the situation, and the Australian Foreign Minister has spoken to his Malaysian counterpart Anifah Aman.
When asked when the images of debris were taken, Hishammuddin only replied that the call from the Australian prime minister to Najib came this morning.
“The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) continues co-ordinating the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft within Australia’s search and rescue area, with assistance from the Australian Defence Force, the New Zealand Air Force, and the US Navy.
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“AMSA’s Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC) Australia has received satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search for MH370.
“RCC Australia received an expert assessment of commercial satellite imagery today. The images were captured by satellite. They may not be related to the aircraft. The assessment of these images was provided by the Australian Geospatial Intelligence Organisation as a possible indication of debris southwest of Perth,” he added.
As result of this information, four aircraft have been re-orientated to an area 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth. A Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion aircraft had arrived in the area at about 10.50am while another three aircraft have been tasked by RCC Australia to the area, including a second RAAF Orion, a Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion, and a US Navy P-8 Poseidon.
Hishammuddin said the Poseidon was expected to arrive early this afternoon and the second RAAF Orion was expected to depart RAAF Base Pearce, Perth, mid-afternoon. The New Zealand Orion was due to depart this afternoon.
A RAAF C-130 Hercules aircraft has been tasked by RCC Australia to drop datum marker buoys to assist in drift modelling.
They will provide an on-going reference point if the task of relocating the objects becomes protracted.
A merchant ship that responded to a shipping broadcast issued by RCC Australia on Monday was also expected to arrive in the area this afternoon.
The Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Success is en route to the area but is some days away. The ship is well equipped to recover any objects located and proven to be from MH370.
Credible but unconfirmed
“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,” Hishammuddin said.
Earlier today, Abbott told the Australian parliament that search and rescue teams had found two objects which could be from the missing Malaysian airline in the Indian Ocean some 2,500km southwest of Perth.
The objects were found in the southern part of Australia in the vicinity of the search and rescue area for MH370 which went missing on March 8. The Boeing 777-200ER jetliner went missing an hour into its flight form the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing, China.
It was carrying 239 passengers and crew. The runaway plane was last spotted by civilian radar heading towards Vietnam over the South China Sea. Its transponders which sends signal to air traffic control on the plane’s location was switched from inside the jetliner off soon after last contact was made.
The plane was spotted by the military radar an hour after that heading towards the Andaman Sea, on the western side of peninsula Malaysia. Some 27 nations have joined in the search for the missing plane. Malaysian authorities have said the plane flew in either one of the two routes. One was towards the Indian Ocean while the other was across continental Asia, from northern Thailand to Kazakhstan.
The Australian are leading search and rescue operations in the Indian Ocean.
Hishammuddin said currently, there are 18 ships, 29 aircraft and six ship-borne helicopters are deployed along the northern and southern corridors of the search.
In the northern corridor, there are four aircraft – two from Malaysia, one each from Japan and the US.
In the southern corridor, there are 25 aircraft – two from Malaysia, Australia (5), China (3), Indonesia (4), India (2), Japan (4), New Zealand (1), South Korea (2) and one each from UAE and USA.
There are a total of 18 ships in the southern corridor including six from Malaysia, Australia (1), China (5) and Indonesia (6).
This deployment, he said, included six helicopters, three each from Malaysia and China.
“Until we are certain that we have located MH370, search and rescue operations will continue in both corridors.
“I can confirm that Malaysia is sending two aircraft to Kazakhstan, and the UK is planning to send a ship to the southern corridor. In addition to the assets I just listed above, a number of countries in the northern corridor are carrying out search and rescue operations within their own territory,” he said.
International force deployment
The minister also said China was using every means possible, including 21 satellites, to search the area within its borders, and is ready to send more ships and aircraft wherever they are needed.
“In Cambodia, four helicopters are conducting search operations within Cambodian territory, the Laos Air Force is carrying out search operations within Laos, Singapore is using its International Information Fusion Centre, where a Malaysian representative is stationed, to notify mariners and help with the search.
The Thai military is conducting search operations in the northern part of Thailand with all available aircraft and Vietnam is conducting search operations within its territory using an unspecified number of aircraft.
“Together this represents a significant international force deployment. I am thankful for the co-operation of our partners as we continue to focus on finding MH370.
“Our primary focus has always been to find the aircraft. And with every passing day, our efforts have intensified.
“Yesterday I said that we wanted to reduce the area of the search. We now have a credible lead. There remains much work to be done to deploy the assets. This work will continue overnight,” he concluded.
Hishammuddin also said that if parts of the missing plane were found at the location, the next step would be finding the black box.
“Different assets will be used for that,” he said, quickly adding that the two Malaysian submarines were incapable for that kind of search.