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EARTH OBSERVATION
Planes chase satellite sightings of suspected debris
by Staff Writers
Perth, Australia (AFP) March 28, 2014


Planes and ships were to resume the hunt Friday for wreckage of flight MH370 after the weather cleared, as they chase down more satellite sightings of suspected debris nearly three weeks after the jet crashed.

Sorties being flown by planes from Australia, China, Japan and the United States were forced back to Perth on Thursday as thunderstorms and gale force winds swept through the southern Indian Ocean, although five ships stayed put.

There were fears that the weather would set in, but the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the search would start again.

"The MH370 search will resume this morning," it tweeted in the increasingly desperate quest to confirm that debris sighted by satellite came from the Malaysia Airlines jet that vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board.

The resumption follows Thailand reporting Thursday a satellite sighting of hundreds of floating objects. Japan also announced a satellite analysis indicated around 10 square floating objects in a similar area, the Kyodo news agency said.

They were the second sightings in two days suggesting a possible debris field from the Boeing 777.

As well as planes from six nations, five ships from China and Australia have joined the search, battling fierce winds and sometimes mountainous seas as they look for hard evidence that the plane crashed, as Malaysia has concluded.

The commanding officer of Australia's HMAS Success, Captain Allison Norris, said she had instituted hourly shift changes to make sure nothing is missed in the vast and remote stretch of ocean notorious for rapidly changing weather conditions.

"Their supervisors remind them of the task and what they're there for and keep them focused," she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"Morale remains good, despite the cold conditions."

The United States said it was sending a second P-8 Poseidon aircraft to Perth, but would not be dispatching a warship.

"We believe -- and just as importantly, the Malaysian government believes -- that the most important asset that we have that we can help them with are these long-range maritime patrol aircraft," said Rear Admiral John Kirby.

- Possible debris field -

Thailand's Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency said it had satellite images taken on Monday of 300 objects, ranging in size from two to 15 metres.

It said they were scattered over an area about 2,700 kilometres (1,680 miles) southwest of Perth, but could not confirm they were plane debris.

The agency said the items were spotted about 200 kilometres away from an area where French satellite images earlier showed objects.

Japan's Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Centre's study showed the objects it sighted on Wednesday were up to eight metres in length and four metres wide with Jiji Press citing an official at the office as saying they were "highly likely" to be from the plane.

MH370 is presumed to have crashed after mysteriously diverting from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing path and apparently flying for hours in the opposite direction.

Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately redirected by someone on board, but nothing else is known.

The search suspension on Thursday caused mounting concern as the clock ticks on the signal emitted by the plane's "black box" of flight data.

The data is considered vital to unravelling the flight's mystery but the signal, aimed at guiding searchers to the device on the seabed, will expire in under two weeks.

- Seeking closure -

Seeking closure, anguished families of those aboard are desperately awaiting concrete evidence, which might also provide answers to one of aviation's greatest mysteries.

Two-thirds of the passengers were from China and relatives there have accused the Malaysian government and airline of a cover-up and of botching the response.

Scores of Chinese relatives protested outside Malaysia's embassy in Beijing on Tuesday, and a day later Premier Li Keqiang urged Malaysia to involve "more Chinese experts" in the investigation.

Scenarios about the plane's fate include a hijacking, pilot sabotage or a crisis that incapacitated the crew and left the plane to fly on auto-pilot until it ran out of fuel.

The focus has been on the pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, with the FBI analysing data from a flight simulator taken from his home. Malaysia had sought its help to recover files deleted from the hard drive.

So far, no information implicating the captain or anyone else has emerged and his youngest son Ahmad Seth Thursday dismissed speculation his father may have crashed the plane intentionally.

burs-mp/mfc/lm

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