Poor visibility in the area where satellite pictures may have spotted debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 will likely complicate search efforts, says the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).
General manager of AMSA’s Rescue Coordination Centre – Australia John Young says that satellite pictures analysed by the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO) have identified two objects, one of which is 24m in size, in the Indian Ocean 2,500km south-west of Perth.
“This is close enough to the National Transportation Safety Board’s assessed area to be a possible sighting and we want to find them and want to work out what they are,” he says.
"This is a lead, it is probably the best lead we have right now but we need to get there."
A Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion aircraft that was diverted to the area arrived on scene at about 13:50 Canberra time, but had not yet spotted the objects. Young adds that the crew have reported poor visibility and weather conditions.
A Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K and a US Navy P-8A Posiedon have also been tasked to search the area for the debris, with the Poseidon expected to arrive on scene at 19:00 Canberra time, with the P-3K to follow an hour later.
A RAAF C-130 Hercules will also transit to the area to drop data marker buoys to help determine likely drift patterns for any debris.
“What we’re looking for is a confirmation that it does belong to the aircraft or it does not,” says Young.
A merchant vessel has also been tasked to search the area, and is expected to arrive at 18:00 Canberra. The Royal Australian Navy supply ship HMAS Success, which is equipped for a recovery operation, is also headed to the area but is “some days away”, according to Young.
RAAF Air Commodore John McGarry says that the AGO continues to support the search effort, and has requested commercial satellite images of the area for further analysis.
“The ability to re-task assets... will become a priority, but I am unable to give any advice on when the additional imagery [will become available],” he says.
The 777-200ER had 239 passengers and crew on board when it went missing around 01:30 Malaysian time on 8 March.