Aircraft and ships have also renewed a search in the Andaman Sea
between India and Thailand, going over areas that have already been
exhaustively swept to find some clue to unlock one of the biggest
mysteries in modern aviation.
The Boeing 777 went missing almost two weeks ago off the Malaysian
coast with 239 people aboard. There has been no confirmed sign of
wreckage but two objects seen floating deep south in the Indian
Ocean were considered a credible lead and set off a huge hunt on
Australian authorities said the first aircraft to sweep treacherous
seas on Friday about 2,500 km (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth was
on its way back to base without spotting the objects picked out by
satellite images five days ago.
"Something that was floating on the sea that long ago may no longer
be floating," Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told reporters in
Perth. "It may have slipped to the bottom."
But the search was continuing and Australian, New Zealand and U.S.
aircraft would be joined by Chinese and Japanese planes over the
"It's about the most inaccessible spot that you can imagine on the
face of the Earth, but if there is anything down there, we will find
it," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters in Papua
New Guinea, where he is on a visit.
"Now it could just be a container that's fallen off a ship. We just
don't know, but we owe it to the families and the friends and the
loved ones to do everything we can to try to resolve what is as yet
an extraordinary riddle."
India said it was sending two aircraft, a Poseidon P-8I maritime
surveillance aircraft and a C-130 Hercules transporter, to join the
hunt in the southern Indian Ocean. It is also sending another P-8I
and four warships to search in the Andaman Sea, where the plane was
last seen on military radar on March 8.
In New Delhi, officials said the search in areas around the Andaman
island chain was not at the request of Malaysian authorities
coordinating the global search for the airliner.
"All the navies of the world have SAR regions," said Capt. D.K.
Sharma, an Indian navy spokesman, referring to search and rescue
regions. "So we're doing it at our own behest."
Investigators suspect Flight MH370, which took off from Kuala Lumpur
for Beijing shortly after midnight on March 8, was deliberately
diverted thousands of miles from its scheduled path. They say they
are focusing on hijacking or sabotage but have not ruled out
The search for the plane also continues in other regions, including
a wide arc sweeping northward from Laos to Kazakhstan.
In the Indian Ocean, three Australian and two Japanese P-3 Orions
joined a high-tech U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon and a civilian Bombardier
Global Express jet to search the 23,000 square km (8,900 sq mile)
zone, Australian and Malaysian authorities said.
A Norwegian merchant ship, the Hoegh St. Petersburg, was diverted to
the area on Thursday and another vessel would arrive later on
An Australian navy ship was expected to arrive in the search area on
Saturday and Britain's HMS Echo, a multipurpose ocean survey
vessel, was also heading to the region, Malaysia said.
[to top of second column]
China's icebreaker for Antarctic research, Xuelong, or Snow Dragon,
will set off from Perth to search the area, Chinese state news
agency Xinhua cited maritime authorities as saying. Up to five more
Chinese ships, with three ship-borne helicopters, were steaming
towards the search zone from across the Indian Ocean.
Australian authorities said they had not asked for the ships to
search the area. About two-thirds of the missing plane's passengers
were Chinese nationals.
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that searchers
were facing a "long haul" but were conscious that the clock was
ticking. The plane's "black box" voice and data recorder only
transmits an electronic signal for about 30 days before its battery
dies, after which it will be far more difficult to locate.
It took investigators two years to find the black box from a Air
France jetliner that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean on a stormy
night in June 2009.
"If we do not find it within the 30 days, it brings in other issues
of how to locate it — as the French airline had to take two years.
That comes into a different realm of search and rescue,"
There have been many false leads and no confirmed wreckage found
from Flight MH370 since it vanished off Malaysia's east coast less
than an hour after taking off.
There has also been criticism of the search operation and
investigation, as more than two dozen countries scramble to overcome
logistical and diplomatic hurdles.
Investigators piecing together patchy data from military radar and
satellites believe that, minutes after its identifying transponder
was switched off as it crossed the Gulf of Thailand, the plane
turned sharply west, re-crossing the Malay Peninsula and following
an established route towards India.
What happened next is unclear, but faint electronic "pings" picked
up by one commercial satellite suggest the aircraft flew on for at
least six hours.
A source with direct knowledge of the situation said that
information gleaned from the pings had been passed to investigators
within a few days, but it took Malaysia more than a week to narrow
the search area to two large arcs — one reaching south to near where
the potential debris was spotted, and a second crossing to the north
into China and central Asia.
(Additional reporting by Jane Wardell in Sydney, Naomi Tajitsu in
Wellington, A. Ananthalakshmi, Anuradha Raghu and Niluksi Koswanage
in Kuala Lumpur, Neil Darby in Perth, Byron Kaye in Canberra, Mark
Hosenball and Andrea Shalal in Washington, Nicholas Vinocur in
Paris, Paul Sandle in London,; Frank Jack Daniel and Sruthi
Gottipati in New Delhi; writing by Lincoln Feast; editing by Stuart Grudgings, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.