The hunt for Malaysia Airlines missing flight MH370 intensified in the southern Indian Ocean Thursday after Australian satellite images showed debris southwest of Perth that may “possibly be related to the search,” Malaysia’s top transportation minister confirmed.
At a media briefing in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s defense and acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein stressed nothing had been confirmed, but described the satellite images as “credible.”
After more than 10 days of mystifying and frustrating search trying to locate the Boeing 777-200, with 239 people on board, this may be the first real breakthrough in the search operation that has had many false leads and which has widened to a vast area from Kazakhstan to the Australian west coast. The aircraft, on a March 8 flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, disappeared from radar just south of Vietnam about an hour after takeoff.
Hishammuddin said in his briefing that Malaysia’s prime minister received a call from the prime minister of Australia, informing him that ‘two possible objects related to the search’ for MH370 had been identified in the southern Indian Ocean.
“The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) continues coordinating the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft within Australia’s search and rescue area, with assistance from the Australian Defence Force, the New Zealand Air Force, and the US Navy,” he said.
“AMSA’s Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC) Australia has received satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search for MH370.
“RCC Australia received an expert assessment of commercial satellite imagery today. The images were captured by satellite. They may not be related to the aircraft.
“The assessment of these images was provided by the Australian Geospatial Intelligence Organisation as a possible indication of debris southwest of Perth.”
Four aircraft have been re-orientated to an area 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth. A Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion aircraft has arrived in the area and another three aircraft have been tasked by RCC Australia to the area, including a second RAAF Orion, a Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion, and a US Navy P-8 Poseidon.
An RAAF C-130 Hercules aircraft has been tasked by RCC Australia to drop datum marker buoys to assist in drift modelling. They will provide an on-going reference point if the task of relocating the objects becomes protracted, the minister said.
A merchant ship that responded to a shipping broadcast issued by RCC Australia on Monday was also expected to arrive in the area shortly.
The Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Success is en route to the area but is some days away. The ship is well equipped to recover any objects located and proven to be from MH370.
“Every effort is being made to locate the objects seen in the satellite imagery. It must be stressed that these sightings, while credible, are still to be confirmed,” the minister added.
Although search efforts were halted as night fell in the region, they were set to resume at first light Friday.