• Experts see hurdles as plane search resumes


    Malaysia20140327KUALA LUMPUR: Fresh satellite images taken during the search for a missing passenger jet show 122 “potential objects” in one area of the Indian Ocean, Malaysia said on Wednesday.

    The images from Airbus Defence and Space in France show the objects in a 400-square-kilometre (160-square-mile) area of the ocean, said Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.

    He a daily press conference it was not possible to say whether the objects came from the Boeing 777 which crashed on March 8 with 239 people aboard.

    “Nevertheless, this is another new lead that will help direct the search operation,” Hishammuddin said.

    Earlier satellite data from Australia, China and France had also shown floating objects possibly related to MH370, but nothing has so far been retrieved despite a huge multinational search.

    Hishammuddin said the Airbus images were taken on Sunday, received on Tuesday, and immediately forwarded to the Australian agency coordinating the search.

    He said the Malaysian Remote Sensing Agency had identified the 122 “potential objects” after analyzing the satellite images.

    Some were a meter in length while others were as long as 23 meters.

    “Some of the objects appeared to be bright, possibly indicating solid materials,” the minister said.

    They were located about 2,557 kilometers (1,600 miles) from Perth. The search effort has focused on waters far to the southwest of Australia.

    Challenges ahead
    But searchers racing to find Malaysian Airlines flight MH370’s “black box” face daunting hurdles ranging from undersea volcanoes to mountainous seas as they operate in one of Earth’s most remote locations, experts said on Wednesday.

    They warned there was no guarantee that an unprecedented international search operation involving the militaries of six nations would succeed in retrieving wreckage of the doomed Malaysian Airlines plane, which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board.

    Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday said the search zone—in the southern Indian Ocean some 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth—was “as close to nowhere as it’s possible to be.”

    University of New South Wales oceanographer Erik van Sebille said the crash site was in an area known as “the Roaring Forties,” notorious among mariners for its hostile seas.

    “In general, this is the windiest and waviest part of the ocean,” he said.

    “In winter, if a storm passes by you can expect waves of 10 to 15 meters,” Sebille added.

    The Soufan Group, a US-based strategic security intelligence consultancy, likened searching for debris in such conditions to “finding a drifting needle in a chaotic, color-changing, perception-shifting, motion-sickness-inducing haystack.”

    “A random wave might obscure the object when the eyes pass over it; sun glare off the water may blind momentarily; a look two degrees to the left when the object is most visible may cause the moment to pass,” it said.

    Even if the search does find verifiable wreckage from MH370 on the surface, geologist Robin Beaman said underwater volcanoes would probably hamper efforts to recover the black box flight recorder from the depths.

    Beaman said the Southeast Indian Ocean Ridge cut directly through the search area, meaning the seabed was rugged and constantly being reshaped by magma flows.

    He said the ridge was an “extremely active” range of volcanoes sitting at an average depth of 3,000 meters (1.86 miles), which marked the point where the Antarctic and Australasian tectonic plates collide.

    “It’s very unfortunate if that debris has landed on the active crest area, it will make life more challenging,” Beaman, who specializes in underwater geology at Queensland’s James Cook University, told Agence France-Presse.

    Finding the flight and cockpit voice data will be crucial in determining what caused the Boeing 777 to deviate inexplicably off course and fly thousands of miles in the wrong direction.

    University of Sydney aviation expert Peter Gibbens said searchers faced a race against time, with acoustic signals from the black box set to fall silent in about two weeks when its battery expires.



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