21 March 2014
Australian PM defends decision to reveal possible discovery of debris, saying families deserve to be told of ‘credible evidence’
The Guardian reports – Five aircraft have returned to the southern Indian Ocean on Friday to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane as the Australian prime minister defended his decision to reveal the possible discovery of debris.
Tony Abbott said families of passengers and crew aboard the missing flight, MH370, deserved to be told any credible information as soon as it came to hand.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority confirmed four aircraft had departed the Western Australian capital of Perth on Friday looking for at least two satellite-detected objects, one believed to be 24m long. The edge of the new search zone is 2,340km (1,450 miles) southwest of Perth.
A Royal Australian Air Force P3 Orion departed for the remote area on Friday morning, followed by two other P3 Orions and an ultra-long range Bombardier Global Express, according to a statement issued by AMSA. The fifth aircraft, a United States Navy P8 Poseidon, was due to depart for the search area soon.
“Due to the distance to and from the search area, the aircraft involved have an endurance of approximately two hours of search time,” AMSA said. “One merchant vessel is currently in the search area. A second merchant vessel is due to arrive tonight.”
China was sending three warships to the search area while a fourth Chinese vessel, the icebreaker Snow Dragon, was in Perth and might join the efforts, Associated Press reported on Friday.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing almost two weeks ago on a journey from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and its ultimate flight path remains unclear. Authorities have used satellite data to plot northern and southern search arcs, sweeping north to Kazakhstan and down to the southern Indian Ocean.
Australia, which is co-ordinating the southern operations, diverted its search crews on Thursday after analysis of satellite images detected two indistinct objects that Abbott said might be related to the search for MH370. The initial search failed to find the objects, one measuring about 24m and the other 5m, amid reports of poor weather and visibility.
Facing the media on a trade mission to Papua New Guinea on Friday, Abbott was asked whether he had been too quick to make the announcement to parliament of the unconfirmed breakthrough.
The Australian prime minister said he had alerted his Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, of the developments shortly after receiving “credible evidence that there was debris in the Southern Indian Ocean very close to the southern search corridor for ill-fated flight MH370”.
“Since then, we’ve been throwing everything we’ve got at that area to try to learn more about what this debris might be. It could just be a container that’s fallen off a ship; we just don’t know,” Abbott said.
“But we owe it to the families and the friends and the loved ones of the almost 240 people on flight MH370 to do everything we can to try to resolve what is as yet an extraordinary riddle. We owe it to them to do everything we can to resolve this, and because of the understandable state of anxiety and apprehension that they’re in we also owe it to them to give them information as soon as it’s to hand and I think I was doing that yesterday in the parliament.”
Abbott pointed out that the search area in the southern Indian Ocean was extremely remote but assured relatives that all efforts would be made to find the objects.
“If there is anything down there we will find it,” he said.
AMSA said the satellite images were captured on Sunday but downplayed the significance of the delay in acting on the possible objects. The authority cited “the volume of imagery being searched and the detailed process of analysis that followed”. Defence imaging experts brought the material to the attention of the search co-ordinators on Thursday morning, AMSA said.
Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said showers had eased in the search zone after a cold front passed through the area on Thursday.
“Drizzle and associated low cloud and reduction in visibility are likely to continue,” the bureau said on Friday. “Winds are forecast to be relatively light, less than 15 knots, with swell easing below two metres.”
AMSA’s emergency response division general manager, John Young, did not hold a media briefing to update the search progress on Friday. Instead, he released an officially recorded video in which he said the objects were yet to be sighted.
“Although this search area is much smaller than we started with it nonetheless is the big area when you’re looking out the window trying to see something by eye,” Young said in the prepared video.
“Tomorrow’s plan is actually to do the same thing again. We will move the search area according to where the water has moved overnight.”
Chinese nationals comprised the majority of the 239 people aboard missing flight MH370.
Abbott said he had spoken by phone to the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, who was “devastated” by the missing plane.