‘Best lead’ in plane search: 2 objects seen in sea
In this March 16, 2014 satellite imagery provided by DigitalGlobe via the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) on Thursday, March 20, 2014, a floating object is seen at sea next to the descriptor which was added by the source. Australia's government reported Thursday, March 20, 2014 that the images show suspected debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner floating in an area 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth Australia. (AP Photo/DigitalGlobe via the Australian Maritime Safety Authority)
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A freighter used searchlights early Friday to scan rough seas in one of the remotest places on Earth after satellite images detected possible pieces from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane in the southern Indian Ocean.
In what officials called the “best lead” of the nearly two-week-old aviation mystery, a satellite detected two large objects floating about 1,000 miles off the southwestern coast of Australia and halfway to the desolate islands of the Antarctic.
The development raised new hope of finding the vanished jet and sent another emotional jolt to the families of the 239 people aboard.
Australian authorities said in a statement early today that the search had turned up nothing so far. Efforts were resuming with four military aircraft planning to scour more than 13,000 square miles of ocean.
One of the objects on the satellite image was almost 80 feet long and the other was 15 feet. There could be other objects in the area, a four-hour flight from Australia, said John Young, manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s emergency response division.
“This is a lead, it’s probably the best lead we have right now,” Young said. He cautioned that the objects could be seaborne debris along a shipping route where containers can fall off cargo vessels, although the larger object is longer than a container.
The Norwegian cargo vessel Hoegh St. Petersburg, with a Filipino crew of 20, arrived in the area and used searchlights after dark to look for debris. It will continue the search Friday, said Ingar Skiaker of Hoegh Autoliners, speaking to reporters in Oslo.
The Norwegian ship, which transports cars, was on its way from South Africa to Australia, he said. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said another commercial ship and an Australian navy vessel were also en route to the search area.
Satellite imagery experts said the lead is worth investigating.
“It would be very nice if you could see a whole wing floating there, then you could say, ‘OK that’s an airplane,’” said Sean O’Connor, an imagery analyst with IHS Jane’s. In the case of these satellite images, “you can’t tell what it is” so closer examination is critical.
Another analyst said the debris is most likely not pieces of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. There have been several false leads since the Boeing 777 disappeared March 8 above the Gulf of Thailand en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
“The chances of it being debris from the airplane are probably small, and the chances of it being debris from other shipping are probably large,” said Jason Middleton, an aviation professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.