Three weeks after Malaysia Airlines Flights 370 set off from Kuala Lumpur, search aircraft set off Saturday from Australia — hoping to, finally, find the Boeing 777 in the southern Indian Ocean where experts now believe it ended up.
The area that search teams — including a Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 and an Australian P-3 Orion that set off Saturday morning from Perth are now focusing on is 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the northeast from where they’d been concentrating for more than a week, and it’s closer to the Australian coast. This change is thanks to a new analysis of satellite data that Australian authorities say show the commercial airliner could not have flown as far south as once thought.
Saturday’s renewed search comes days after Japan and Thailand both said they’d sent new satellite images to Malaysia showing separate debris fields that could be related to the plane, which vanished with 239 people aboard.
Air Vice-Marshal Kevin Short, commander of Joint Forces New Zealand, told CNN’s Erin Burnett five of the dispatched aircraft “located debris in their search area” on Friday. Some of the spottings were “hundreds of miles away” from each other, although Short said this vast expanse is “not unusual” given the ocean conditions and the time passed since the airplane’s purported crash.
That includes 11 small objects spotted by one of his military’s P-3 planes. CNN’s Kyung Lah, who went out on a U.S. Navy P-8 search plane Friday, said the crew of that plane spotted white objects, orange rope and a blue bag.
“At one point, sure, everybody on board got a little excited, but it’s impossible to tell from that distance what anything is,” she said.
Aircraft setting off Saturday will try to relocate those objects, take photos of them for analysis, and direct four ships in the area “to their exact location,” according to Short.
But again, the world must wait — there’s no confirmation that anything spotted from the air so far has anything to do with the missing airliner, which authorities have been hunting since early March.
“We should not underestimate the difficulty of this work (in) an extraordinarily remote location,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Saturday. “… While we are throwing everything that we have at it, the task goes.”
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority stressed what’s been detected so far “cannot be verified or discounted as being from MH370 until they are relocated and recovered by ships,” six of which are to arrive Saturday in the new search area. They could be flotsam, like one distinctive piece of fishing gear spotted in the revised zone.