French images show possible debris from jetliner
PERTH, Australia (AP) - France on Sunday provided Malaysia with satellite images of objects that could be from a passenger jet that has been missing for more than two weeks, the latest word of such images that officials are hoping will help solve one of the world's great aviation mysteries.
The images show "potential objects in the vicinity of the southern corridor," Malaysia's Ministry of Transport said in a statement. That is thought to be close to areas of the Indian Ocean where previous satellite images released by Australia and China showed objects that could be debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which went missing over the Gulf of Thailand on March 8 with 239 people on board.
A Malaysian official involved in the search mission said the French image was captured Friday and was about 930 kilometers (575 miles) north from where the Chinese and Australian objects were seen.
The official, who declined to be named because he isn't authorized to speak to the media, said one of the objects was estimated to be about the same size as an object captured Tuesday by the Chinese satellite that appeared to be 22 meters (72 feet) by 13 meters (43 feet). However, the official said the French satellite image was fuzzy and very unclear, making it difficult to determine the exact dimensions.
Air and sea searches since Thursday in a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean to determine whether the Chinese and Australian objects were from the missing jet have been unsuccessful. Australian officials told Malaysia there had been no new sightings so far on Sunday, Malaysia's statement said.
The latest images were sent to Australia, which is coordinating the search about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, the statement said. It did not give any further information on the images.
Andrea Hayward-Maher, a spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, confirmed that Australia had received the images, but had no further details.
The images could be another clue in the growing mystery over Flight 370. The search has moved from seas off Vietnam when the plane first went missing to areas not far from the Antarctica, where planes and a ship were scrambling Sunday looking for a pallet and other debris spotted by a search plane to determine whether they were from the missing jet.
Wooden pallets are commonly used in shipping, but can also be used in cargo containers carried on planes.
Mike Barton, chief of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's rescue coordination center, told reporters in Canberra, Australia, that the wooden pallet, which was spotted Saturday, was surrounded by several other objects, including what appeared to be strapping belts of different colors.
A New Zealand P3 Orion military plane was then sent to find it but failed, he said.
"So, we've gone back to that area again today to try and re-find it," Barton said. An Australian navy ship was also involved in the search.
AMSA said 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," Barton said. "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."
Sam Cardwell, a spokesman for AMSA, said the maritime agency had requested a cargo manifest from Malaysia Airlines, but he was unsure whether it had been received as of Sunday night.
Malaysia Airlines asked The Associated Press to submit questions via email for comment on whether Flight 370 had wooden pallets aboard when it disappeared. There was no immediate response.
When Brazilian searchers in 2009 were looking for debris from Air France Flight 447 after it mysteriously plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, the first thing they found was a wooden pallet. The military first reported that the pallet came from the Air France flight, but then said six hours later that the plane had not been carrying any wooden pallets.
Eight search planes departed from a military base near the southwestern Australian city of Perth on Sunday, but like other searches since Thursday, they have not produced any results.
John Young, manager of AMSA's emergency response division, said Sunday's search used mostly human eyes.
"Today is really a visual search again, and visual searches take some time. They can be difficult," he said.
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 anyone else on board.