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Planes fail to find 'credible' candidate for flight MH370 wreckage

Ships and new flights return to area where 24-metre objects spotted Thursday

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Updated2 Australia has sent planes to the Southern Ocean, some 2,500km south-west of Perth, after analysis of what's been described as “commercial satellite imagery” revealed large objects suspected to be debris from missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

The search area, depicted below in a map released by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (ASMA), is at the extreme end of the missing plane's range and is also conceivably on the craft's route, as determined by projections of its course based on its last transmissions to satellites.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament that an Orion P3 aircraft equipped for marine rescue and observation had been despatched to visit the site where the debris was spotted. The Orion will be followed by other craft with similar capabilities. Mr Abbott said he had informed his Malaysian counterpart, Prime Minister Najib Razak, of the find and the reconnaissance mission.

In a press conference this afternoon, ASMA officials said they are advised by experts that the objects noticed by satellites were worth visiting in the context of the search for MH370, but that the satellite images that sparked the decision did not offer sufficient detail to make a positive identification of the items in the water. Nor do the images depict an oil slick.

Aviation commentators have since said that at a reported 24m in length, the objects are consistent with the size of a 777's wing or tailplane. That's of interest because one of the major pieces of floating debris recovered after Air France Flight 447's crash over the Atlantic Ocean was the tailplane.

Satellite image of possible MH370 debris

The satellite image analysts believe may be MH370 debris. Click here to see at a larger size.

Since the press conference, reports have emerged that media travelling on US search planes report several credible radar images have been detected in the search zone.

The first aircraft sent to the search zone has sufficient fuel to spend two hours looking for the objects and will be able to do so during daylight hours as Perth, the port from which it departed, is at GMT +8. The search zone is probably GMT +7. Even though it is light, it will be hard to conduct extensive searches as the area under inspection is three hours' flight from Perth. Spotter planes will need to ensure they have enough fuel to make it home safely. To make matters worse, another aircraft that visited the same region earlier today reported that visibility is poor

The zone where Australian planes are searching for MH370 debris

The Reg will update this story as more information comes to hand.

If the search area is indeed MH370's resting place, it appears the plane turned south. Just how or why it did so remains open to speculation. The site is, at least, consistent with theories that the plane flew until it ran out of fuel.

The region of the Southern Ocean under consideration is very remote: there are very few islands and none boast airstrips capable of handling a 777. The location therefore supports theories that the plane was not under human control for many hours, unless someone in control had a reason to ditch in a remote ocean. The location does offer an explanation for why the plane was able to fly unobserved for many hours, because once the projected flightpath took it south of Indonesia there is almost no land, inhabited or otherwise, from which it could have been observed. ®

Updated at 2200 GMT, Thursday March 20

ASMA says none of the planes sent to the Southern Ocean on Thursday March 20th were able to spot debris.

In an update issued at 21:00 GMT on March 20th, ASMA said four planes will visit the search area today. The Royal Australian Navy's HMAS Success is also travelling to the area and a second merchant ship is expected in the area later tonight Australian time (probably around 0600 GMT).

Updated at 0030 GMT

AMSA has advised that five planes will search for MH370 today, on the following schedule:

  • A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P3 Orion departed for the search area at around 9.15am.
  • A civil Gulfstream jet and a second RAAF P3 Orion is due to depart for the search area at approximately 11am.
  • A third RAAF P3 Orion is due to depart for the search area at approximately 1pm.
  • The United States Navy P8 Poseidon aircraft is due to depart for the search area at approximately 4pm.

Each of the planes will be able to search for about two hours.

All times quoted are GMT +11 hours.

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