Australian authorities combing the Indian Ocean for missing Malaysian Air Flight MH370 may have found two objects and diverted surveillance aircraft to locate them, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.
“New and credible information has come to light in relation to the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 in the Southern Indian Ocean,” Abbott said. “The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has received information based on satellite imagery,” he said, adding two possible objects related to the search have been identified.
A Royal Australian Airforce Orion has been diverted to the area to locate the objects and three more aircraft will follow, Abbott said. AMSA is scheduled to hold a media briefing at 3:30 p.m. Sydney time today, according to an e-mailed statement.
AMSA received information based on satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search, Abbott told lawmakers in parliament, as the search for the plane that was carrying 239 people stretched into its 13th day. Following specialist analysis of this satellite imagery, two possible objects related to the search have been identified, Abbott said.
The search area for the Boeing Co. 777-200ER, which went missing on March 8, narrowed in the southern Indian Ocean after an analysis of the plane’s probable fuel reserves. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation joined Malaysia’s inquiry into the missing jet as authorities sought to retrieve deleted data on a computer flight simulator belonging to the plane’s pilot.
Satellite signals emitted periodically from Flight 370 even after other communications were shut down showed the jet operated for almost seven hours after last making contact. That may have taken the plane more than 3,000 miles from its last known location to the limits of the fuel on board, if it remained airborne the whole time.
The search for the Malaysian jet, which lost contact with air traffic control less than an hour after leaving Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. en route to Beijing, is the longest in modern passenger-airline history. The previous record was the 10-day search for a Boeing Co. 737-400 operated by Indonesia’s PT Adam Skyconnection Airlines, which went missing off the coast of that country’s Sulawesi island Jan. 1, 2007.
Much of the area Australia is scouring is within the Roaring Forties, a region between the 40th and 50th degrees of latitude south known for strong winds and wave conditions, according to charts provided by AMSA.
The FBI’s involvement, disclosed yesterday by the White House, widens the U.S. role in probing Flight 370’s disappearance. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration are already working with Malaysian authorities, as is the U.S. military.
“There’s been close cooperation with the Malaysian government,” President Barack Obama said in an interview with a Dallas television station. He said the investigation is a “top priority.”
Malaysia has brought in local and international experts to examine the simulator, Hishammuddin said. Some data had been deleted and “forensic work” to retrieve it was under way, he said. The data log was cleared on Feb. 3, according to Khalid Abu Bakar, the country’s police chief.
The homes of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid were searched on March 15 after Prime Minister Najib Razak said the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. plane was intentionally diverted. It lost contact and disappeared from radar screens less than an hour after it left Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing. Initial inquiries indicated the co-pilot was last heard by air traffic controllers.
“The passengers, the pilots and the crew remain innocent until proven otherwise,” Malaysian Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said. “For the sake of their families, I ask that we refrain from any unnecessary speculation that might make an already difficult time even harder.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to comment on the status of the investigation into Flight 370 while confirming that the FBI was involved.
“We are finding that the level of cooperation with the Malaysian government is solid,” Carney told reporters. “But I have no update on the course of the investigation. It remains the case that, you know, we are not in the position yet to draw conclusions about what happened.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Edward Johnson in Sydney at [email protected]; Jason Scott in Canberra at [email protected] To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anand Krishnamoorthy at [email protected] Peter Hirschberg