FRANCE has provided new satellite data showing possible debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, as searchers combing a remote part of the southern Indian Ocean tried without success to locate a wooden pallet that could yield clues to one of the world’s most baffling aviation mysteries.
The new data consists of “radar echoes” in the same part of the ocean where satellite images previously released by Australia and China showed what might be debris from the plane, French authorities said yesterday.
Flight MH370 vanished on 8 March with 239 people aboard while en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, setting off a multi-national search that has turned up no confirmed pieces and nothing conclusive on what happened to the jet.
The latest satellite data came to light as Australian authorities coordinating the search, conducted about 1,550 miles south west of Perth, sent planes and a ship to try to “re-find” the wooden pallet that appeared to be surrounded by straps of different lengths and colours.
The pallet was spotted on Saturday from a search plane, but the spotters were unable to take photographs of it, and a PC Orion military plane dispatched to locate it could not find it.
“So, we’ve gone back to that area again to try and re-find it,” said Mike Barton, chief of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s rescue coordination centre.
Mr Barton repeated that the aircraft that spotted the pallet was unable to take photos of it.
“We went to some of the expert airlines and the use of wooden pallets is quite common in the industry. They’re usually packed into another container, which is loaded in the belly of the aircraft.
“It’s a possible lead, but we will need to be very certain that this is a pallet because pallets are used in the shipping industry as well.”
An official with Malaysia Airlines last night confirmed that the flight was carrying wooden pallets.
The Malaysian Transport Ministry said yesterday: “Malaysia received new satellite images from the French authorities showing potential objects in the vicinity of the southern corridor.
“Malaysia immediately relayed these images to the Australian rescue co-ordination centre.”
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had said there was “increasing hope” of a breakthrough in the hunt for the plane on the strength of Chinese and Australian images of possible large debris.
In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said that the satellite radar echoes “identified some debris that could be from the Malaysian Airlines plane.”
The spokesman said that these echoes “are not images with a definition like a photograph, but they do allow us to identify the nature of an object and to localise it”.
“The French government has decided to increase its satellite monitoring of this zone and try to obtain precise images and locations,” Mr Nadal said.
Gathering satellite echo data involves sending a beam of energy to the Earth and then analysing it when it bounces back, according to Joseph Bermudez, chief analytics officer at AllSource Analysis, a commercial satellite intelligence firm.
Satellite radar echoes can be converted into an image that would look similar to a black-and-white photo, though not as clear, he said. “You’d have to know what you’re looking at,” Mr Bermudez said.
A Malaysian official involved in the search said the French data located objects about 930 kilometres (575 miles) north of the spots where the objects in the images released by Australia and China were located.
One of the objects located was estimated to be about the same size as an object captured Tuesday by the Chinese satellite that appeared to be 72ft by 43ft, said the official.
It was not possible to determine precise dimensions from the French data, he added.
The southern Indian Ocean is thought to be a potential area to find the jet because Malaysian authorities have said pings sent by the Boeing 777-200 for several hours after it disappeared indicated that the plane ended up in one of two huge arcs: a northern corridor stretching from Malaysia to Central Asia, or a southern corridor that stretches toward Antarctica.
Malaysian authorities have not ruled out any possible explanation for what happened to the jet, but have said the evidence so far suggests it was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca, with its communications systems disabled. They are unsure what happened next.
Authorities are considering the possibilities of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.
In the US Tony Blinken, president Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said: “There is no prevailing theory.”
“Publicly or privately, we don’t know” what happened to the plane, he said. “We’re chasing down every theory.”
Relatives’ anger over lack of information keeps growing
Like other relatives of passengers on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Wang Zheng’s frustration and anger over a lack of any certain information about the fate of his loved ones continues to grow two weeks after the plane went missing.
“Biggest of all is the emotional turmoil I’ve been going through. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep. I’ve been dreaming of my parents every day,” said the 30-year-old IT engineer from Beijing, whose father and mother, Wang Linshi and Xiong Yunming, were both aboard the flight as part of a group of Chinese artists touring Malaysia.
The plane’s disappearance has hit China particularly hard, with 153 of the 239 people on board citizens of the People’s Republic.
Their relatives have spent more than two weeks on an emotional roller coaster.
China’s government has responded to the crisis with almost unprecedented forcefulness, deploying nearly a dozen ships and several aircraft to the search effort and assigning government officials to meet relatives and liaise with Malaysian officials.Many relatives have put their personal and professional lives on hold waiting for any word of the fate of the plane.
At a hotel complex in Beijing, the relatives rise each morning and eat breakfast – before to attend a briefing. Then follows another long day of watching the news and waiting, before an evening briefing that inevitably offers little more information.
Amid the many theories and scant and often dubious, contradictory and disavowed findings, their patience has at times worn thin. After a brief meeting on Saturday with Malaysia Airlines and Malaysian government officials, impatience turned to anger as relatives erupted in shouts of “We want to know what the reality is,” and “Give us back our loved ones.”
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein called on “all parties to be understanding during this extraordinary and difficult time,” and said officials would “do everything in our power” to keep the relatives informed.
Concern grows about checks on airline pilots
With no answers yet in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370; investigators have said they are considering many options: hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or catastrophic equipment failure.
Nobody knows if the pilots are heroes who tried to save a crippled airliner or if one collaborated with hijackers or was on a suicide mission.
Whatever the outcome, the mystery has raised concerns about whether airlines and governments do enough to make sure that pilots are mentally fit to fly.
“One of the most dangerous things that can happen is the rogue captain,” said John Gadzinski, a Boeing 737 captain and aviation-safety consultant. “If you get somebody who – for whatever reason – turns cancerous and starts going on their own agenda, it can be a really bad situation.”
Malaysia Airlines said this week that its pilots take psychological tests during the hiring process.
“We will obviously look into all these and see whether we can strengthen, tighten all the various entry requirements and examinations,” chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said.
Many US airlines also perform mental health screenings when pilots and crew apply for jobs.
Once a pilot is hired, however, US airlines rarely if ever test a pilot again for mental health, say several experienced pilots.
According to Federal Aviation Administration rules, US pilots must pass a physical exam annually or every six months, depending on their age, but there is no specific requirement for a mental-health test.
Buried in 333 pages of instructions, the FAA tells doctors that they should “form a general impression of the emotional stability and mental state” of the pilot.
The FAA does require pilots to report any use of prescription drugs, substance abuse, arrests for drunken driving, “mental disorders of any sort” and if they have attempted suicide.
Some conditions disqualify pilots, including bipolar disease, a “severe” and repeated personality disorder, and psychosis.