China satellite finds object near jet search area

By Scott Mcdonald

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, March 22 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

This Friday, March 21, 2014 graphic provided by Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), shows an area in the southern Indian Ocean that the AMSA is concentrating its search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 on. Planes are flying out of Australia again to search for two objects detected by satellite that may be debris from a missing Malaysian Airlines jetliner.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A satellite image released by China on Saturday offered the latest sign that wreckage from a Malaysia Airlines plane lost for more than two weeks could be in a remote stretch of the southern Indian Ocean where planes and ships have been searching for three days.

The image, showing an object 22 meters (72 feet) by 13 meters (43 feet), was taken around noon Tuesday. The image location was about 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of where an Australian satellite viewed two objects two days earlier. The larger object was about as long as the one the Chinese satellite detected.

"The news that I just received is that the Chinese ambassador received a satellite image of a floating object in the southern corridor and they will be sending ships to verify," Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters Saturday.

Australian officials said the location was searched earlier Saturday, before they learned of the satellite image, but the object was not found. Currents likely have carried away whatever was there.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is overseeing the search in the region, said a civil aircraft reported seeing a number of small objects in the search area, including a wooden pallet, but a New Zealand military plane diverted to the location found only clumps of seaweed. The agency said in a statement that searchers would keep trying to determine whether the objects are related to the lost plane.

The latest satellite image is another clue in the baffling search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which dropped off air traffic control screens March 8 over the Gulf of Thailand with 239 people on board.

After about a week of confusion, authorities said pings sent by the Boeing 777-200 for several hours after it disappeared indicated that the plane ended up in one of two huge arcs: a northern corridor stretching from Malaysia to Central Asia, or a southern corridor that stretches toward Antarctica.

The discovery of the two objects by the Australian satellite led several countries to send planes and ships to a stretch of the Indian Ocean about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Australia. But three days of searching have produced nothing.

One of the objects spotted in the earlier satellite imagery was described as 24 meters (almost 80 feet) in length and the other was 5 meters (15 feet). The Boeing 777-200 is about 64 meters (209 feet) long with a wingspan of 61 meters (199 feet) and a fuselage about 6.2 meters (20 feet) in diameter, according to Boeing's website.

In a statement on its website announcing China's find, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense did not explain why it took four days to release the information. But there was a similar delay in the release of the Australian satellite images because experts needed time to examine them.

Two military planes from China arrived Saturday in Perth to join Australian, New Zealand and U.S. aircraft in the search. Japanese planes will arrive Sunday and ships were in the area or on their way.

The flights Saturday were in relatively good weather, but did not yield any results. It was not immediately known whether the newly released Chinese satellite image would change the search area on Sunday.

Even if both satellites detected the same object, it may be unrelated to the plane. One possibility is that it could have fallen off a cargo vessel.

Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said the currents in the area typically move at about one meter (yard) per second but can sometimes move faster.

Based on the typical speed, a current could theoretically move a floating object about 173 kilometers (107 miles) in two days.

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