AUSTRALIA’s prime minister said yesterday he is hopeful clues will emerge soon to help find Flight 370 even though searchers again failed to find jet debris, as relatives of Chinese passengers on the plane protested in Malaysia to demand the government apologise over its handling of the search.
An increasing number of ships are scouring an area of the Indian Ocean off western Australia after a new search zone was identified on Friday, but the only objects scooped up by the vessels so far have been “fishing equipment and other flotsam” not connected to the Malaysia Airlines plane that crashed on 8 March with 239 people on board, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
Australian Navy Commodore Peter Leavy said “there has been no discrete debris associated with the flight”.
In Sydney, prime minister Tony Abbott insisted that the “intensifying search effort” was positive because objects “have been recovered from the ocean” in the zone after a week-long search in another area spotted items from planes that ships never managed to find.
The maritime safety authority said nine planes took part in the search yesterday, leaving in staggered times from a military base near the western city of Perth. Eight ships were on the scene, including the Australian navy supply ship HMAS Success, which was designated as the vessel that will store any wreckage found.
Mr Leavy said the operation in the new search zone is complicated because it lies in a shipping lane where sea trash is common. Searchers were hampered by rain and low clouds, but were still able to look for debris with visibility of about six miles. It takes planes about two- and-a-half hours to get to the area, giving them five hours of searching time before they must return to base.
Objects spotted so far include three with white, red and orange colours by a Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 plane. The missing Boeing 777’s exterior was red, white, blue and gray.
In Malaysia, several dozen Chinese relatives of passengers of Flight 370 demanded that the Malaysian government apologise for its handling of the search and for the prime minister’s announcement that it crashed into the southern Indian Ocean before any wreckage was found.
The group staged its protest at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur hours after flying in from Beijing, waving banners that read “We want evidence, truth, dignity” and “Hand us the murderer. Tell us the truth. Give us our relatives back.”
Two-thirds of the 227 passengers aboard the plane, which disappeared en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, were Chinese. China has urged Malaysia to be more open about the investigation, while Malaysian officials have defended their handling of the probe and the information they have provided.
Searchers for a full week relied on satellite data from various countries as they tried to find the aircraft in a different zone to the south of the current area, but abruptly shifted course on Friday after authorities concluded the plane could not have travelled as far as they had thought based on its estimated speed and fuel consumption.
That prompted the change in the hunt for the plane’s likely entry point into the sea and its black boxes, which should contain clues to what caused the aircraft to be so far off course.
An Australian warship with an American black box detector and specialists aboard to use was set to depart yesterday from a port near Perth to join the search. It will still take three to four days for the ship, the Ocean Shield, to reach the search zone – an area roughly the size of Poland, about 1,150 miles west of Australia.