World Bulletin / News Desk
Chinese satellites have spotted a new object in the southern Indian Ocean that could be wreckage from a missing Malaysian airliner carrying 239 people, and ships are on their way to investigate, China and Malaysia said on Saturday.
The object, around 22 metres long (74ft) and 13 metres (43ft) wide, was spotted early on March 18 around 120 km (75 miles) from a location where possible debris was sighted by another satellite on March 16 in the remote ocean off western Australia, China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) said on its website.
The Chinese sighting was first revealed by Malaysia's Defence Minister and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who was handed a note with details during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur.
"Chinese ships have been dispatched to the area," Hishammuddin said.
China said an image of the object had been captured by its high-definition earth observation satellite "Gaofen-1". The location was south by west of the possible debris announced by Australia on Thursday, SASTIND said.
The latest possible lead in the hunt for the jetliner comes two weeks after it disappeared from civilian radar screens less than an hour after taking-off from the Malaysian capital on a scheduled flight to Beijing.
Searches by more than two dozen countries have so far turned up little but frustration and fresh questions about Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
The international search for the plane has in recent days focused on the southern Indian Ocean far off Australia's western coast after satellite images captured floating objects that investigators believed could be parts of an aircraft.
Six aircraft and two merchant ships have been scouring the area, but there were no reports of any wreckage being found.
Australia, which announced the first satellite image and is coordinating the rescue, has cautioned the objects might be a lost shipping container or other debris and may have since sunk.
"Even though this is not a definite lead, it is probably more solid than any other lead around the world and that is why so much effort and interest is being put into this search," Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told reporters, before latest Chinese report.
According to several people familiar with the matter, India has told Malaysian investigators that it had found no evidence the plane flew through its airspace, making the satellite debris lead more solid.
It was the first formal notification that India had come up empty-handed after checking its radar records, the sources said.
China, Japan and India were sending more planes and Australian and Chinese navy vessels were also steaming towards the southern zone, more than 2,000 km (1,200 miles) southwest of Perth.
Weather conditions were good, with 10 km (6 miles) of visibility, according to officials - a crucial boost for a search that is relying more on human eyes than the technical wizardry of the most advanced aircraft in the world.
UNDERSREA SEARCH GEAR
The U.S. is weighing a request from Malaysia for sonar equipment to bolster the so-far frustrated search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, as concerns grow that any debris may have sunk to the bottom of the sea.
Malaysia's Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein asked for undersea surveillance equipment in a phone call with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, as the Pentagon tallied $2.5 million in costs so far in the nearly two-week-old search.
"No specific request was made for any particular type. It was just a general request for us to help them locate the wreckage and/or the black box," Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told Reuters on Friday.
"The Secretary said he would consider the request, that he would examine whether we had anything that was both available and potentially helpful and that he would get back to the minister in the very near future."
The U.S. Navy has a variety of active and passive sonar systems, some of which search the ocean for objects by emitting sound "pings" and monitoring the echoes that bounce back and others that listen for sound like an undersea microphone.
One system, called a "Towed Pinger Locator", is towed behind ships and is used to listen for downed Navy and commercial aircraft at depths of up to 20,000 feet (6000 meters), according to the U.S. Navy's website.
The U.S. military loaned this technology to France during its two-year effort to locate the black box from an Air France jetliner that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in June 2009.
The P-8 and P-3 spy planes, which the United States is already deploying in the Malaysian jetliner search, also carry "sonobuoys" that can be dropped into the sea and use sonar signals to search the waters below.
"Sound actually travels a long distance under water, depending on the conditions," Kirby said.
"Temperature, current, the underwater topography, all of these things change the way sound travels underwater. But sound can travel a long, long way."
One big question will be where to drop any sonar equipment.
NO SIGN FROM INDIA
India has formally told Malaysian investigators it has found no evidence that a missing Malaysia Airlines jet with 239 people on board flew through its airspace, several people familiar with the matter said.
The first formal notification that India has come up empty-handed after checking its radar records leaves the two-week-old investigation dependent on increasingly fragile hopes that an object spotted in the southern Indian Ocean comes from Flight MH370.
Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said earlier that after two days without confirmation, his "biggest concern" was that the search for the missing plane would have to focus once again on two corridors stretching north and south.
Any radar data from India could have proved crucial in identifying whether the aircraft went north or south from its last known position after disappearing on March 8, but the issue is seen as sensitive because of the presence of military radar.
Sources familiar with the situation in both countries said India had formally told Malaysia that it had checked for any sign of the jet having touched its airspace and found nothing of significance, in response to Kuala Lumpur's diplomatic request.Last Mod: 22 Mart 2014, 13:45