Malaysian authorities searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 have described a debris sighting off western Australia as “credible”, but have not indicated whether there is any supporting evidence beyond the satellite images.
Acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein, during a press briefing on 20 March, also skirted around timing queries over the photographs, released by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which are dated 16 March.
“The images were captured by satellite. They may not be related to the aircraft,” he said. “It must be stressed that these sightings, while credible, are still to be confirmed.”
He would not immediately confirm when the satellite images had been taken. Nor would he state whether the authorities had any further data indicating that there might be a connection to the missing flight MH370, beyond saying other satellites "corroborated" the AMSA information.
Four aircraft – three Lockheed P-3s and a Boeing P-8 – have been directed to the area, some 2,500km southwest of Perth.
A Lockheed C-130 is also being dispatched to deploy marker buoys in order to assist with ocean current drift modelling.
“They will provide an on-going reference point if the task of relocating the objects becomes protracted,” says Hishammuddin. Rapid deployment of such buoys was one of the recommendations which emerged after the loss of Air France flight AF447 over the South Atlantic in 2009.
At least two vessels are en route to the region, Hishammuddin adds, with a merchant ship expecting to arrive on 20 March.
Hishammuddin states that 18 ships and 29 aircraft are deployed along the northern and southern arcs identified by the search teams as potential locations. Most of the aircraft have been directed south, to the overwater region, as countries in the northern search zone use their own internal capabilities – such as China, which has satellite access – to assist the effort.