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Australia 'clutching' at MH370 leads after new data
by Staff Writers
Perth, Australia (AFP) March 24, 2014

Malaysia says French satellite detects debris in plane search area
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) March 23, 2014 - Malaysia said Sunday it had received new satellite data from France indicating floating objects in the search area for a missing Malaysian jet in the southern Indian Ocean.

The Transport Ministry said the information had been passed on to Australian authorities who are coordinating the search for the plane, now focused on a remote stretch of ocean 2,500 kilometres (1,562 miles) southwest of Perth.

The ministry said the latest data came in the form of images but France's foreign ministry later clarified this, saying it came in the form of "satellite-generated radar echoes".

A radar echo is an electronic signal that contains information about the location and distance of the object which bounces the signal back.

According to the French statement, the debris was floating around 2,300 kilometres from Perth.

It said France would increase its satellite capacity to continue the search in the zone.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard.

Malaysia, which later revealed the plane turned back over the Malaysian peninsula after losing contact, has enlisted 25 other countries to help hunt for the plane.

Efforts in recent days have focused on the coast off Australia after previous satellite images of large objects there were released, and a plane spotted a wooden cargo pallet, along with some belts or straps.

Australia said Monday that French satellite data indicating floating objects possibly linked to missing Flight MH370 related to an area outside the current search zone, while admitting to "clutching" at every piece of new information.

Malaysian authorities on Sunday said the data was related to the area of the southern Indian Ocean being scoured for the missing Malaysian jet, which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board.

The information was passed to Australia, which is coordinating the hunt for the plane, focused on a remote stretch of ocean 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth.

But Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said the latest potential sighting of debris was about 850 kilometres north of where aircraft and ships have been looking since Thursday.

"Certainly the area where debris has been picked up by satellites is of particular interest, and they're the focus of a lot of the searching," Truss told ABC radio.

"The French sighting is I guess a piece of new material because that is in a completely different location. That is about 850 kilometres north of our current search area.

"So we need to check that out as well."

While Malaysian authorities initially said the latest data came in the form of images, France's foreign ministry clarified this, saying it came in the form of "satellite-generated radar echoes".

A radar echo is an electronic signal that contains information about the location and distance of an object, which bounces the signal back.

Hopes of a breakthrough have been fuelled by satellite images and data captured by Australia, China, and now France in recent days, along with the visual sighting of a wooden pallet and other debris from a spotter plane on Saturday.

- Deputy PM urges caution -

But Truss cautioned that "we still don't know for certain that the aircraft is even in this area".

"We're just, I guess, clutching at whatever little piece of information comes along to try and find a place where we might be able to concentrate the efforts," he added.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority added in a statement Monday that it "reiterates this is a challenging search operation".

"The flight has been missing since March 8 and AMSA continues to hold the gravest of concerns for the passengers and crew on board the missing flight."

Australian, US and New Zealand planes have been flying sorties for four days looking for the Boeing 777 and AMSA said 10 aircraft were now involved in the search with the arrival of two giant Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 reconnaissance planes along with two Japanese P3 Orions.

"Today's search is split into two areas within the same proximity covering a cumulative 68,500 square kilometres," it said.

"The weather forecast in the search area is expected to deteriorate, with rain likely."

Truss also warned of deteriorating weather, stirred up by Tropical Cyclone Gillian, which is expected to track at least 1,000 kilometres north of the search area.

"Clearly it won't be cyclonic when it gets down into the freezing waters that we're dealing with with this search," Truss said.

"But certainly it could stir up less favourable weather."


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