Poor weather has hampered the search for possible debris from missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in the Indian Ocean, with officials warning it could be several days until answers can be provided.
Satellite imagery identified the two objects, one of which is 24-metres long, and an urgent search effort was launched yesterday afternoon, with ships and aircraft from several countries rushing to assist the Australian-led effort.
The plane seemingly vanished from its its flight path en route to Beijing from Malaysia on March 8, with 239 people on board, including six Australians. Initial investigations focused on a catastrophic aviation accident, though have since turned to the possibility the aircraft was hijacked.
A Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion arrived on the scene shortly after Prime Minister Tony Abbott revealed the development in the House of Representatives, though its pilot later told reporters low cloud and rain were an issue.
“The weather conditions were such that we were unable to see for very much of the flight today but the other aircraft that are searching, they may have better conditions,” Flight Lieutenant Chris Birrer said.
Several more Australian aircraft were sent to the scene, along with a plane from the Royal New Zealand Air Force and another from the United States.
Australian Navy vessel HMAS Success is also en route, though is not expected to arrive on scene for several days. Updates from the additional aircraft are expected this morning.
Hoegh St. Petersburg, a Norwegian-flagged carrier, arrived at the area around 8pm AEST last night. Spokesperson for Hoegh Autolines, Ben Stack, could not confirm whether the vessel had sighted any objects in the water, according to News Corp Australia.
“They want to help in any way they can and they’re going to do as the Australian authorities ask them to,” he said.
Abbott stressed the possibility the objects were not from the missing jet as he arrived in Papua New Guinea yesterday evening, for talks on trade and Manus Island.
“We don’t know what that satellite saw until we can get a much better, much closer look at it at it, but this is the first tangible break-through in what up until now has been an utterly baffling mystery.
“We are throwing all the resources we can at it. We will do everything we humanly can to try to get to the bottom of this.”
While remaining cautious, Malaysia’s acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein says the images have been “corroborated to a certain extent”, making them more credible than previous leads.
Defence Minister David Johnston emphasised the logistical difficulties in interviews with Sky News and AAP, speaking from Jakarta where he is attending defence talks.
“This is a terribly complex logistical operation to identify what we have found via the satellite,” he said.
“We are in a most isolated part of the world, in fact it probably doesn’t get, if I can be so bold, more isolated.
“We are doing everything we can to try to solve this potentially tragic mystery.”
The images of the possible debris were captured using United States intelligence assets, and shared with Australia, according to a Fairfax report.
More images are expected once commercial satellites are repositioned, Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokesperson John Young said yesterday.
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