Antarctica, one of the remotest pieces of real estate on Earth, is now being searched by planes and a freighter. Satellite imaging has spotted potential pieces from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight in the extreme southern end of the Indian Ocean.
Calling it the “best lead,” officials involved with the 2-week-old mystery, say that a satellite has detected two large objects about 1,000 miles from the southwestern coast of Australia. The location is halfway to the islands of Antarctica and is so remote that it takes aircraft longer to fly to the location than they actually spend on-station conducting the search.
Spokesmen say that the finding has raised new hope of locating the jet and has sent another emotional curve on the roller coaster ride of emotions that the families of the missing 239 people on board have experienced. Never expecting the plane may be found close to Antarctica, the families have been staying close to the Malaysian airport for daily updates.
Authorities in Australia released a statement early Friday that the search, which has turned up nothing so far, will resume with the first of five Royal Australian Air Force planes. The flights will leave their base in Western Australia, for the search closer to Antarctica, which is scheduled to start around dawn. A Gulfstream jet and a second Orion are scheduled to leave Friday morning and will be followed by a third Orion due to depart early Friday afternoon. Together the planes are set to search more than 13,000 square miles of open ocean. A US Navy P-8 Poseidon is scheduled to depart at 4pm, but will have enough fuel for just a few hours of searching close to Antarctica before having to return to Perth.
The flights have a long journey lasting more than four hours. Fuel allotments allow the planes only one or two hours each on station before they are forced to return to the mainland to refuel. A spokesman for Australia’s prime minister said that weather conditions in the search area are poor and will only get worse.
“And so clearly this is a very, very difficult and challenging search. Weather conditions are not particularly good and risk that they may deteriorate,” Warren Truss said.
One object spotted in the satellite imagery was about 80 feet long and the second was 15 feet in length. John Young, manager of the Australian emergency response division called the images the best clue that the searchers have. Young also acknowledged that the objects could be general debris field which lies along a shipping route used by cargo vessels.
Officials are working to get more images with stronger resolution in the hopes of giving searches a better idea of where and what the objects are. By comparing the earlier images with later ones, searchers could also get an idea of how far, and in what direction, they have drifted. Besides looking at before-and-after images, marker buoys have been deployed to help get a better idea of the current drift in the water.
A Norwegian cargo ship, Hoegh St. Petersburg, with a crew of 20, arrived on location and used high-intensity lighting to continue to look for debris. The ship’s search is will continue Friday according to the spokesman with Hoegh Autoliners. The ship, which provides transports for cars, was between South Africa and Australia when search officials asked for its help.
Malaysian officials are not ignoring any potential cause for what led to the jet’s disappearance, but have repeatedly said that so far evidence points to the possibility that it was turned back deliberately after its transponders had been turned off. They are not certain about what occurred after that.
Investigators are still considering all options to explain the disappearance. The potential for hijacking or sabotage could possibly explain the disappearance for the jet that now has searchers looking in one of the remotest spots on earth close to Antarctica.
By Jerry Nelson