Missing jet: Search may last several days

Canberra/Beijing, March 21: Australian maritime authorities said Friday that the search in the southern Indian Ocean for a missing Malaysian airliner may last several days due to bad weather.

Andrea Hayward-Maher, media liaison officer of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), said that bad weather continued to affect visibility in the search area to locate debris that might be linked to the missing jet, Xinhua reported.

The AMSA had Thursday said that two objects, with the larger one about 24 metres long, had been spotted in the southern Indian Ocean on satellite imagery and that they might be related to the missing airliner.

The area where the objects were spotted is approximately 2,500 km southwest of Perth, the capital of Western Australia state.

Due to the bad weather condition, Australian aircraft have not till now found any object related to the missing plane.

“It is a large area and the weather is difficult (to search),” Hayward-Maher said.

According to the media, a Royal Australia Air Force(RAFF) P3 Orion plane was unable to locate the debris Thursday, with Flight Lieutenant Chris Birrer telling reporters the weather conditions were so bad that “we were unable to see for very much of the flight”.

Search planes from Australia, the US and New Zealand will continue the hunt Friday, while merchant boats are also heading to the 23,000 square km search zone.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished mysteriously about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur March 8.

The Boeing 777-200ER was initially presumed to have crashed off the Vietnamese coast in the South China Sea.

The plane was scheduled to land in Beijing at 6.30 a.m. the same day. The 227 passengers on board included five Indians, 154 Chinese and 38 Malaysians.

Contact with the plane was lost along with its radar signal at 1.40 a.m. when it was flying over the air traffic control area of Ho Chi Minh City.

According to the latest release of the AMSA, five aircraft was supposed to be involved in Friday’s search for the missing jet.

An RAAF P3 Orion departed for the search area at around 9.15 a.m. A civil Gulfstream jet and a second RAAF P3 Orion was due to depart for the search area at approximately 11 a.m. A third RAAF P3 Orion was due to depart at approximately 1 p.m. and a US Navy P8 Poseidon aircraft at approximately 4 p.m.

Haywayd-Maher told Xinhua that the AMSA tasked the Gulfstream jet “because of its endurance”.

In addition, a Norwegian ship has arrived in the search zone Friday night and another merchant ship is due to arrive Friday night. But Hayward-Maher said she could not provide details of the second vessel, including its nationality.

Due to the distance to and from the search area, the aircraft involved have a “loiter” time of approximately two hours.

Air Commodore John McGarry said at a press conference Thursday that it would take four hours for the aircraft to arrive at the area from RAAF Base Pearce near Perth.

One merchant vessel is currently in the search area. A second merchant vessel is due to arrive Friday night.

According to a report from Beijing, more Chinese vessels will set out for the southern Indian Ocean to join the multinational search operation.

Chinese rescue vessels Haixun 01 and Nanhaijiu 101 will sail to the search area.

Haixun 31 and Nanhaijiu 115 will also head for the southern Indian Ocean even as three more Chinese naval ships have already moved toward the suspected waters.

Meanwhile, China Maritime Search and Rescue Centre has contacted the State Oceanic Administration of China to send a Chinese icebreaker for Antarctic research – Xuelong, or Snow Dragon – now anchored in Perth, to the search area as soon as possible.

IANS