Australia is sending surveillance planes to check whether two objects spotted by satellite in the southern Indian Ocean belong to the missing Malaysian passenger jet, as the search stretched into a 13th day.
Satellite images picked up the objects in a search zone 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, said John Young, the general manager of emergency response at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. The largest piece is about 24 meters in size. Ships and planes of the U.S., Australia and New Zealand will scour the area later today, he said.
“It’s probably the best lead that we have right now, but we have to get there, find them, see them to know,” Young told reporters in Canberra today. “AMSA is doing its level best to find anyone that may have survived.”
Four aircraft have been redirected to the area where the objects were sighted and Royal Australian Navy Ship HMAS Success is also on its way. The U.S. Navy’s P8 Poseidon aircraft is scheduled to arrive at the scene today while an Orion belonging to New Zealand will depart later.
Malaysian Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in Kuala Lumpur that Prime Minister Najib Razak had earlier spoken to his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott. Australia had yet to establish whether the objects were related to the plane, he said.
The objects were identified after specialist analysis of satellite imagery, Abbott told lawmakers.
The search area for the Boeing Co. 777-200ER, which went missing on March 8 with 239 people on board, 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. (BA) 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 pilot’s flight 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. (MAS) 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.”