Despair voiced in hunt for plane
Families feel hope of survival fading; President Xi pledges to make all-out efforts
Friends and family members of the Chinese passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane told of their devastation on Thursday after Australian authorities said new satellite imagery had located two large objects possibly related to the flight.
During a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, President Xi Jinping said China will keep close contact and cooperation with Australia in the search. He pledged all-out efforts as long as hope remains.
One of the objects, found in the Indian Ocean about 2,500 km southwest of the Australian city of Perth, is about 24 meters long.
This was disclosed by John Young, general manager of the emergency response division of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, at a news conference. Four aircraft were redirected to search for the objects. However, the aircraft failed to locate the objects on Thursday because of poor visibility and the Australian authorities suspended the hunt until Friday.
Abbott said at a news conference, “This is probably the best lead we have right now.”
Young said the satellite imagery was insufficiently detailed to provide a direct link with the Boeing 777-200.
But he said there is a possibility that the objects might be debris from flight MH370, which was carrying 239 crew and passengers, including 154 Chinese, when it disappeared from radar screens on March 8 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, to Beijing.
The satellite images, provided by US company DigitalGlobe, are stamped with a recorded date of March 16, meaning that the objects could have drifted far from the original site by now.
Some family members and friends of the Chinese passengers watched the Australian Maritime Safety Authority news conference live at the Metropark Lido Hotel in Beijing, where they have been accommodated by Malaysia Airlines. Many said they felt devastated on hearing about the possible new clues in the hunt for the plane.
“The news of finding possible debris means my son’s chances of survival have become extremely small,” a man surnamed Zou said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a news briefing, “China highly values the latest information provided by the Australian authorities.”
Liang Yang, spokesman for the Chinese navy, said its search vessels are heading to the area where the objects were spotted.
A Royal Australian Air Force Orion aircraft arrived in the area to identify the objects. A further three aircraft were sent to the area by the Australian rescue coordination center, including a Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion and a United States Navy P8 Poseidon.
A Boeing 777 pilot with Malaysia Airlines, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the 24-meter-long object might be one of the aircraft’s wings.
The plane is about 60 meters long and 60 meters wide.
A staff member from Boeing China said the registered numbers on major components can usually indicate the type of plane they are from.
If the objects located by Australia were from an aircraft, it could easily be determined if they were from the missing jet.
Australia took the lead in searching for the plane over the southern Indian Ocean after the Malaysian government expanded the search area to cover a northern sector stretching from the borders of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand and a southern sector stretching from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.
China’s Antarctic research icebreaker, Xuelong, is ready to join the search for the plane in the area where the objects were spotted, the country’s maritime authorities said on Thursday.
The ship was anchored in Perth.
The Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Success is sailing to the area but is some days away.
The ship is well equipped to recover any objects found that prove to be from the plane, Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s defense minister and acting transport minister, said at a scheduled news briefing in Kuala Lumpur.
The Norwegian car ferry Hoegh St. Petersburg has reached the area. It was sailing from Madagascar to Melbourne when it received a request from the Australian authorities to help with searching for the objects.
At least 25 aircraft and 18 ships are conducting the search in the southern sector. Hou Liqiang and Wang Wen in Beijing contributed to this story.