Suspected floating debris of the Malaysian jet may have sunk in a remote part of southern Indian Ocean as a multination team failed to spot them, dashing hopes of a breakthrough in locating the aircraft which mysteriously disappeared two weeks ago.
Five surveillance aircraft and a ship deployed to trace the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 with 239 people on board after two large objects were seen in satellite imagery nearly 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth, scoured the area but found nothing. "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 said 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," he said.
The Beijing-bound Boeing 777-200 went missing on March 8 off the Malaysian coast with 239 people on board, including five Indians and one Indian-Canadian. Since then, investigators have been probing sabotage, hijack, terrorism and other angles that led to the disappearance of the plane but are yet to come across any tangible clues to help resolve one of the most baffling mysteries in modern aviation.
"The last report I have is that nothing of particular significance has been identified in the search today but the work will continue," Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said. Truss said the search was difficult due to testing weather conditions and because the satellite imagery was five days old.
"So something that was floating on the sea that long ago may no longer be floating -- it may have slipped to the bottom. It's also certain that any debris or other material would have moved a significant distance over that time, potentially hundreds of kilometers," he said.
Search teams involving 26 countries are trying to locate the airliner, which went missing an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur. Two large objects -- measuring 24 metres and 5 metres in length -- seen floating in southern Indian Ocean were considered the "best lead" so far, triggering a huge hunt on Thursday.
Malaysia said it is still awaiting information fromAustralia if the satellite images sent on Thursday were that of the missing jet. Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in Kuala Lumpur that search operations are continuing. "We need to narrow the areas of search," he said.
Hishammuddin said he has been in touch with international intelligence agencies but did not elaborate. He said they had not found anything unusual in the list of individuals in the passenger manifest.
He said the government has been in touch with the French delegation, that "includes the man who led the investigation into the Air France 447 crash" who have agreed to assist.
On June 1, 2009, Airbus A330-203 airliner serving the flight crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in the death of all 216 passengers and 12 aircrew. Initial investigation was hampered because the aircraft's black boxes were not recovered from the ocean floor until May 2011, nearly two years later. Chinese and Japanese planes are flying in the next two days to join the search operations undertaken by Australian, New Zealand and US aircraft.
India has agreed to deploy two sophisticated surveillance aircraft and four warships along the southern corridor in the Indian Ocean to locate the missing plane. Director General of Civil Aviation Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the authorities are keeping an open mind about the objects spotted in satellite images.
"Until Friday, we have tried to remain positive in finding those objects. There must be sufficient analysis before we confirm those objects as credible leads."
Hishamuddin said he was talking to some countries over the possibility of using hydrophones to hear blips from the black box. He said experts, including those from abroad, were analysing the simulator seized from the home of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the pilot of the missing jet.
Malaysia will request from the US further "specialist assets" to help with the search, he said, adding the focus is to reduce the area of search and possible rescue.
Image: An image released by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority shows possible debris in the Indian Ocean. Photographs: Twitter