Chinese Satellite Spots Possible Debris From Missing Jet
Ships searching for the missing Malaysian jet plan to investigate possible debris spotted on a Chinese satellite in the southern search corridor, Malaysian authorities say.
Read more below, via FoxNews.com:
A Chinese satellite has spotted a large object along a broad stretch of ocean where officials hope to find a Malaysia Airlines plane that has been missing for more than two weeks, Malaysia's defense minister said Saturday.
Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters that he had been informed that a Chinese satellite had spotted an object 74 feet by 43 feet.
He said, "The news that I just received is that the Chinese ambassador received a satellite image of a floating object in the southern corridor and they will be sending ships to verify."
He said he had no other information and that China would release further details. It was not immediately clear whether the object was seen near where another satellite found two objects earlier this week.
Meanwhile, NASA said Friday it is stepping up its support for a multinational search in the remote southern Indian Ocean for possible debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
The agency joined the search last week, sending data to the U.S. Geological Survey's Earth Resources Observations and Science Hazard Data Distribution System, which facilitates the sharing of information when the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters is activated.
The charter, which was activated by China on March 11, enlists space data from 15 member organizations to provide assistance in the case of a "natural or technological disaster," CNET.com reported.
A NASA spokesman told Fox News that in light of the satellite sighting of two large objects in the area in the southern Indian Ocean earlier this week, "plans are underway to target NASA space-based assets at that area to acquire imagery within the next few days."
Australia's Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss told reporters in Perth on Saturday that "there have been no findings of note" after two days of searching the seas about 1,550 miles southwest of Perth.
"It is a very remote area, but we intend to continue the search until we're absolutely satisfied that further searching would be futile -- and that day is not in sight," he said.
Australian officials coordinating the search for the objects have cautioned that they may not be related to the Boeing 777 that disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board.
Bad weather hindered Friday's search but conditions in the southern Indian Ocean improved Saturday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in Papua New Guinea. He said that six aircraft were in the area plus an Australian naval vessel on the way.
The aircraft included two ultra long-range commercial jets and four P3 Orions, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
Because of the distance to the area, the Orions will have enough fuel to search for two hours, while the commercial jets can stay for five hours before heading back to the base.
Two merchant ships were in the area, and the HMAS Success, a navy supply ship, was due to arrive late Saturday afternoon. Weather in the search zone was expected to be relatively good, with some cloud cover.
Two Chinese aircraft arrived in Perth on Saturday to join the search, and two Japanese planes will arrive Sunday. A small flotilla of ships from China is still several days away. The Malaysian plane passengers included 154 Chinese.
AMSA officials also were checking to see if there was any new satellite imagery that could provide more information. The satellite images were taken March 16, but the search in the area did not start until Thursday because it took time to analyze them.
In Kuala Lumpur, where the Flight 370 plane took off for Beijing, Hussein told reporters that if the search is unsuccessful, the focus will have to return to two broad arcs where pings from the aircraft, detected by another satellite, may have originated. One arc stretches into central Asia; the other deep in the Indian Ocean.
"My biggest concern is that if we are not able to identify the debris, having to go back to the two corridors is a huge and massive area," Hishammuddin said.
The Telegraph newspaper in London carried a report showing a transcript of the conversation between the pilots and traffic control before the plane disappeared. The paper said it may have been noteworthy because one of the pilots repeated his altitude about the same time a transponder was turned off.
Peter Marosszeky, an aviation expert at the University of New South Wales in Australia, cautioned against reading too much into the transcript as pilots occasionally repeat themselves.
"I've sat through many thousands of flights myself and it's not something that would really strike me as unusual," he said.
Without being able to hear the inflection in the pilots' voices, it's very difficult to determine whether anything said is truly noteworthy, he added.
"I'd love to hear the actual voice level of communication to see if there's any level of anxiety that might have been driving the pilot to say what he did," he said.
Malaysia asked the U.S. for undersea surveillance equipment to help in the search, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel promised to assess the availability of the technology and its usefulness in the search, Kirby said.
The Pentagon says it has spent $2.5 million to operate ships and aircraft in the search and has budgeted another $1.5 million for the efforts.
There is a limited battery life for the beacons in the cockpit-voice and flight-data recorders -- about 30 days, said Chuck Schofield, vice president of business development for Dukane Seacom Inc. He said it's "very likely" that his company made the beacons on the missing jet.
The devices work to a depth of 20,000 feet, with a signal range of about 2 nautical miles, depending on variables like sea conditions. The signals are located using a device operated on the surface of the water or towed to a depth.
Experts say it is impossible to tell if the grainy satellite images of the two objects -- one almost 80 feet long and the other measuring 15 feet -- were debris from the plane. But officials have called this the best lead so far in the search that began March 8 after the plane vanished over the Gulf of Thailand on an overnight flight to Beijing.
For relatives of those aboard the plane, hope was slipping away, said Nan Jinyan, sister-in-law of passenger Yan Ling.
"I'm psychologically prepared for the worst and I know the chances of them coming back alive are extremely small," said Nan, one of dozens of relatives gathered at a Beijing hotel awaiting any word about their loved ones.
The Norwegian cargo vessel Hoegh St. Petersburg is also in the area helping with the search. Haakon Svane, a spokesman for the Norwegian Shipowners' Association, said the ship had searched a strip of ocean stretching about 115 miles.
Some questions had been raised about the cargo of the missing plane because it contained lithium ion batteries. Malaysia Airlines issued a statement saying they were in compliance with the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Air Transport Association requirements and classified as "non-dangerous goods."
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.
Police are considering the possibilities of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or anyone else on board.
Fox News' Serafin Gomez and The Associated Press contributed to this report.