An analysis of satellite data shows that the Boeing Co. 777-200ER “flew along the southern corridor and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth,” Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters today in Kuala Lumpur after another fruitless day of air and sea patrols.
“This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites,” Najib said. “It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian ocean.”
Najib’s statement capped a day in which hopes rose for a conclusion to a mystery now in its 17th day with sightings of objects adrift at sea. He shed no new light on why the plane diverted from its Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing route and ended up traveling in the opposite direction.
HMAS Success from the Royal Australian Navy didn’t find any objects, and the search zone is now in darkness, said a spokeswoman, Andrea Hayward-Maher. An Australian Air Force P3 Orion saw a gray or green circular object and an orange rectangular item, AMSA said earlier today in astatement on its website.
The items are separate from those reported by Chinese aircraft earlier today, which the Australians will try to pursue as a U.S. Navy plane came up empty. The crew of a Chinese IL-76 plane reported sighting two “relatively big” floating objects, state-run Xinhua News Agency said.
“Time is really not on our side,” Lieutenant David Levy, a spokesman for the U.S. Seventh Fleet, said by phone from the USS Blue Ridge in the South China Sea. “But we’re going to keep going. That’s our mission.”
The objects spotted by the Australian plane were in an area about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told lawmakers in Canberra, without providing coordinates. A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft as well as an Orion plane each from Australia and Japan are either in the search area or headed there, Abbott said.
The objects could be received by tomorrow morning at the latest, Malaysia’s Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said at a briefing in Kuala Lumpur today.
Malaysian Airline System Bhd. Flight 370 vanished from radar on March 8 and hasn’t been found. The Boeing Co. 777-200ER with 239 people on board was en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.
Chinese aircraft photographed a square floating object, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a briefing in Beijing. The icebreaker Xuelong and three Chinese naval ships are due to arrive in the search area tomorrow or March 26, Hong said.
The Chinese asked for Australian aircraft to further scan the area around the coordinates of 95.1113 degrees east longitude and 42.5453 south latitude, Xinhua said. Many white smaller objects were scattered within a radius of several kilometers of the two objects, the agency said.
Police have interviewed more than 100 people, including families of the pilot and co-pilot, Hishammuddin said. Authorities are considering releasing a copy of the transcript of the pilot’s conversations with the ground, he said. Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police will brief the press tomorrow.
A home-computer flight simulator belonging to the jet’s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, has produced no clear leads for investigators, Hishammuddin said.
Flight 370 was carrying wooden pallets, Hishammuddin said. The aircraft also carried 200 kilograms of lithium-ion batteries, radios and fruit. “There are new leads, but nothing conclusive,” he said of the search.
A wooden pallet spotted from a civil search aircraft was among a number of small objects spread over 5 kilometers and could be of the kind used in planes, Mike Barton, an AMSA official, told reporters yesterday. Military aircraft haven’t been able to duplicate that sighting.
The U.S. Navy is sending a black-box locator “closer to the search area,” Commander Chris Budde, U.S. Seventh Fleet Operations Officer, said in an e-mailed statement. The Towed Pinger Locator System, pulled by a vessel at speeds from one to five knots, can detect the black-box pinger to a depth of about 20,000 feet, he said.
The black box is supposed to emit pings for 30 days after becoming immersed in water. While black boxes are designed to withstand depths of 20,000 feet and may work in even deeper water, the range of the pings is a mile, according to manuals from Honeywell International Inc., the maker of the equipment.
The ocean in the area is about 1 kilometer to 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) deep, AMSA said by e-mail.
Two locators and a third one attached to a faster-moving French nuclear submarine covered about 22,000 square kilometers in 31 days in their search for Air France flight 447, according to a 2009 report into the operation.
The beacon wasn’t located during that hunt and the crashed Airbus Group NV A330 was only found two years later in an underwater sonar search.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss warned of the advance of an Indian Ocean storm toward seas in the search zone already known for high swells. “The forecasts ahead are not all that good,” Truss said in an Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio interview.
Severe Tropical Cyclone Gillian was moving south but wouldn’t have “any impact” on the area, Edward Boyles, a Perth-based forecaster with the Bureau of Meteorology said in an interview. “There will be moderate to fresh winds and lots of low clouds, which won’t be great conditions for the search.”
China’s aircraft were among the 10 flying off Australia’s west coast today in a zone covering 68,000 square kilometers (26,250 square miles), Truss said. Eight planes came up empty yesterday trying to locate a floating object spotted by a Chinese satellite.
Three civilian planes -- two Bombardier Inc. Global business jets and an Airbus Group NV aircraft -- participated today, with 20 volunteer civilian observers.
China’s satellite imagery depicted a floating object 22.5 meters (74 feet) long. The picture, taken March 18, is focused 90 degrees east and almost 45 degrees south, versus almost 91 degrees east and 44 degrees south for similar items on a March 16 satellite image, according to China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense. That put the object 120 kilometers southwest of the earlier satellite sighting, the administration said.
The dimensions appear similar to those of the larger of two objects seen previously, said to be 24 meters long. A Boeing 777-200 is 63 meters long, with a wingspan of 61 meters and a diameter of 6.2 meters.
The Royal Australian Navy’s Ocean Shield, equipped with a subsea remotely operated vehicle, and the HMS Echo, a specialist ship from Britain’s Royal Navy fitted with underwater listening gear and devices to survey the seabed, were on their way to the zone.
The U.S. was asked by Malaysia to provide similar search technology, the Defense Department said in a statement.
To contact the reporters on this story: David Fickling in Sydney at firstname.lastname@example.org; Manirajan Ramasamy in Kuala Lumpur at email@example.com; Ranjeetha Pakiam in Kuala Lumpur at firstname.lastname@example.org
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