France on Sunday provided new satellite images of possible debris of the Malaysian airliner deep in the south Indian Ocean, even as search for the jet which mysteriously disappeared 16 days ago intensified with India, China and Japan deploying surveillance aircraft.
In another possible lead, Australia said it has spotted a wooden cargo pallet in the southern Indian Ocean, expressing “increasing hope” of a breakthrough in locating the jet missing since 8th March.
The pallet along with belts or straps was spotted by one of the Australian aircraft deployed to hunt for the Beijing-bound Flight MH370 that disappeared from radar screen, one hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur.
“This morning, Malaysia received new satellite images from the French authorities showing potential objects in the vicinity of the southern corridor. Malaysia immediately relayed these images to the Australian rescue co-ordination centre,” Malaysia Transport Ministry said in a statement.
A Malaysian official involved in the search operations said the images provided by France were captured on Friday and spotted objects about 930 kilometers north of the location where the objects in the images released by Australia and China were found.
According to France, the debris was floating around 2,300 kilometres from Perth and it would increase its satellite coverage to continue the search in the zone.
This is the third set of images in a week of possible debris of the Malaysia Airlines plane in the area.
It has not yet been established whether the French satellite images zeroed in the area where Chinese imageries spotted some floating objects.
Earlier Australia and China also provided satellite images showing possible wreckage in a remote area of the Indian Ocean, however nothing concrete has been found by aircraft hovering over the area.
Though there is little doubt that the Boeing 777-200 has plunged deep in the remote parts of the ocean off Australia, what has baffled aviation authorities is that no trace of the plane has been found despite putting into use hi-tech surveillance systems.
More planes joined the hunt on Sunday in the desolate area in the Indian Ocean, about 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth, where three days of scouring yielded little results.
The Australian rescue co-ordination centre deployed eight aircraft – four military and four civilian – to the southern corridor on Sunday.
One Indian Navy P8 Poseidon and one Indian Air Force C-130J Super Hercules left Malaysia’s Subang airport today to join the search and rescue operation in the northern part of the southern corridor, which is being led by Indonesia.
Indian aircraft arrived in Kuala Lumpur on 21st March following a commitment from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to assist Malaysia and render all possible assistance to it in locating the missing Boeing 777-200 with 239 people, including five Indians and an Indo-Canadian, on board.
“New Chinese satellite imagery does seem to suggest at least one large object down there, consistent with the object that earlier satellite imagery discovered,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.
“Yesterday one of our civilian search aircraft got visuals on a number of objects in the Australia search zone. [There were] a number of small objects, fairly close together within the Australian search zone, including as I understand it a wooden pallet. Before we can be too specific about what it might be we need to recover some of this material.
“It’s still too early to be definite, but obviously we have now had a number of very credible leads and there is increasing hope – no more than hope, no more than hope – that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen to this ill-fated aircraft,” Abbott told reporters in Papua New Guinea, where he is on a visit.
On Saturday, a new object was spotted by Chinese satellites that could be debris from the plane. The object sighted by the Chinese satellites is 22.5 metres long and 13 metres wide and about 120 km southwest from a location where possible debris was sighted by another satellite on 16th March in the remote ocean off Western Australia.
Two Chinese aircraft and two Japanese Orions joined the fleet flying into the search zone, which was on Saturday expanded to 36,000 square kilometres.
“The more aircraft we have, the more ships we have, the more confident we are of recovering whatever material is down there,” Abbott said.
Malaysian officials believe the plane was deliberately taken off course by someone on the plane. Based on information received from satellites, the search has been in two distinct corridors – one stretching to the north-west of the last known location in the Malacca Straits and one to the south-west.
Since none of the countries on the northern corridor have reported any radar contact with the missing plane or satellite images, the search for possible debris has been concentrated in the southern Indian Ocean.
The rescue coordination chief of Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), Mike Barton, said the hunt for the plane was “visual” search and would focus on a more defined area.
Royal Australian Air Force flight Lt Russell Adams told reporters in Perth that today’s search was frustrating because “there was cloud down to the surface and at times we were completely enclosed by cloud.”
“Nothing of interest to searchers was found,” he said.