21 Mar 2014

Weather hinders search for jet debris

12:45 pm on 21 March 2014

Aircraft and ships searching the southern Indian Ocean for possible debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane have been hampered by poor weather and have so far failed to find anything.

Low cloud and rain hindered the first day of efforts to find objects seen on commercial satellite images in a remote area of ocean about 2500 kilometres south-west of Perth.

Flight MH370 went missing with 239 people on board after it left Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing on 8 March. On the flight were New Zealanders Ximin Wang, 50, from Auckland and mining contractor Paul Weeks, 38, who was based in Perth.

Three Australian Air Force planes, a New Zealand Air Force Orion and a US Poseiden scoured the remote area of ocean on Thursday and the search would continue on Friday.

A satellite image of the larger object in the southern Indian Ocean.

A satellite image of the larger object in the southern Indian Ocean. Photo: Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation

An Australian Air Force Orion over the southern Indian Ocean this week.

An Australian Air Force Orion over the southern Indian Ocean this week. Photo: AFP / Australian Defence / Sgt Hamish Paterson

The captain of the first search plane to return said visibility was poor. "The weather conditions were such that we were unable to see for very much of the flight today," RAAF Orion Flight Lieutenant Chris Birrer told reporters.

An RNZAF Orion spent about two-and-a-half hours searching and arrived back at base in Perth at 5am on Friday. Air Vice-Marshal Kevin Short Commander Joint Forces New Zealand had spoke to the crew and said they found no object of significance.

"The radar system for instance will pick up occasional reflections that they investigated but none of them turned out to be the objects that they're searching for," he told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme.

Bad weather caused visibility problems for the crew who are flying at about 1000 feet and carrying out a primary visual search, with radar and electro-optics as secondary sensors, he said.

The Defence Force said the RNZAF Orion crew was due to take a rest day on Friday but could be called to action if needed during the afternoon.

The area of the southern Indian Ocean where the objects were spotted roughly corresponds to the far end of a southern track that investigators calculated the aircraft could have taken after it was diverted, the ABC reports.

The images were spotted by satellite on 16 March and brought to the attention of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) on Thursday morning. They have been assessed as being credible but it is possible they do not relate to the search, the authority said. One of the objects is measures about 24 metres and another about five metres.

Malaysia's acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the images had been "corroborated to a certain extent" by other satellites, making them more credible than previous leads.