27 Mar 2014

Search for plane suspended again

9:16 pm on 27 March 2014

An air search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has again been suspended due to bad weather in the southern Indian Ocean. Australian officials said all aircraft were returning to base on Thursday, but ships on standby would try to continue.

A bolstered international search team of 11 military and civilian aircraft criss-crossed the remote area of the most challenging search in modern aviation history before being ordered back to the nearest base in Perth, 2500km away from the search site.

Students in Jiangsu province at a vigil for the missing passengers, many of whom were Chinese.

Students in Jiangsu province at a vigil for the missing passengers, many of whom were Chinese. Photo: AFP

Flight MH370 vanished on 8 March with 239 people on board, deviating inexplicably off its intended course between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, and flying thousands of kilometres in the wrong direction.

New French satellite images taken on Sunday and made public on Wednesday revealed 122 objects that could be debris from Boeing 777. Acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the images showed objects up to 23 metres in length. However not a single item has been recovered.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority is co-ordinating the search and said that aircraft had spotted three objects on Wednesday, but despite several passes had not been able to relocate them, the BBC reports.

As dawn broke on Thursday, AMSA said six military aircraft, five civilian aircraft and five ships would be taking part in the day's search operations. However, it later tweeted: "Update: Ships staying in search area & will attempt to continue searching but all planes returning. Bad weather expected for next 24 hours."

The coordinators of the search had hoped to get as many aircraft as possible into the air on Thursday to concentrate on two specific areas of the Indian Ocean where they believe debris might be spotted.

But powerful currents, high waves and the huge distance from land make pinpointing these objects from aircraft very difficult - even when the weather is clear - and until that happens, the five ships that are standing by cannot attempt to retrieve the objects for identification.

An American Navy locator device has arrived in Perth and will be towed behind a Navy vessel at slow speeds listening for 'pings' from the black box recorders from the Malaysian plane.

Meanwhile, the FBI expects to have the results of its analysis of data from a flight simulator taken from the home of the plane's pilot within a day or two. Malaysian officials had asked the American agency to help recover files deleted from the simulator's hard drive, AFP reports.

FBI chief James Comey says its experts have been working round the clock to finish their analys in the hopes the data could provide clues to what happened to Flight MH370.

Police in Malaysia removed the simulator from Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah's home nearly two weeks ago, after investigators said they believed the jet had been deliberately diverted by someone on board.

The crew of the second RNZAF Orion before their departure for Perth.

The crew of the second RNZAF Orion before their departure for Perth. Photo: RNZ / Murielle Baker

Second NZ plane arrives

New Zealand Air Force Commodore Mike Yardley said the latest statellite images have boosted the flagging spirits of the searchers.

However, he cautioned that the pictures were taken before a storm in the area, saying debris can drift a 100 kilometres a day and there is no guarantee that it would be found.

A second search and rescue crew from the New Zealand Air Force flew to Perth on Thursday afternoon and crew remain optimistic that they will find something.

Members of the No 5 squadron will replace a crew in Perth who have been searching for debris without success since the plane went missing. At a speed of 300km/h, the crew have just a second to scan an area of ocean the size of a football field for objects before moving on.

Compensation warning

A disaster compensation lawyer says Malaysia Airways' financial liabilities from the missing plane may reach many hundreds of millions of dollars.

International lawyers are circling what could be a large payday for clients and themselves.

American aviation lawyer Jerry Skinner said Malaysia Airlines had so far offered each family $US5000 expenses, but they should be paid much more.

An international multilateral treaty known as the Montreal Convention guarantees a payout of $US183,000 for each person killed. However, if fault or negligence is determined, the payouts could be much higher.

The airline's main insurer has already put $US110 million into a trust account to cover possible liabilities.