23 March 2014
Poor visibility has hampered search efforts for debris that could be related to the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean, following new Chinese satellite images of a large object and separate sightings from a search plane of scattered debris.
On Saturday images taken on 18 March by a Chinese satellite were released, appearing to show an object measuring 22 metres by 13 metres about 1,550km (960 miles) south-west of Perth. The release of the images coincided with an update from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa) late on Saturday that a number of small objects had been visually identified by one of the search planes.
“During Saturday’s search activities a civil aircraft tasked by Amsa reported sighting a number of small objects with the naked eye, including a wooden pallet, within a radius of five kilometres,” the statement said.
The Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, had earlier announced on Thursday that a “credible” sighting had been made in the Indian ocean, about 2,500km south-west of Perth, based on satellite imagery of two large objects.
The series of announcement has seen a major concentration of effort to scour the southern Indian Ocean for the plane, which went missing over two weeks ago. Eight aircraft have been tasked by Amsa to undertake the search, and vessels from the United States, New Zealand, China and Japan are also aiding in the operation.
None of the sightings have been confirmed, and Abbott said on Sunday that while the findings were “credible leads” they offered “no more than hope” at this stage.
“It is still too early to be definite but obviously we have now had a number of very credible leads, and there is increasing hope, no more than hope … that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen to the aircraft,” Abbott said at a press conference in Papua New Guinea.
Poor weather conditions have further complicated the search mission, and will make the job of observers on the search vessels more difficult. A spokeswoman for the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said on Sunday visibility will continue to be reduced over the weekend.
“Drizzle and associated low cloud and reduction in visibility will continue through the weekend. Another cold front forecast to pass through the area today [Sunday] will bring rain, low cloud, and associated poor visibility,” she said.
Satellite and meteorology experts have already expressed doubts about the prospect