Satellite images from France aid in search for missing Malaysian airliner

Ralph Ellis and Ben Brumfield


(CNN) — Now a third set of satellite images points to possible debris in the southern Indian Ocean, where an international team led by Australia is scouring the waters for remnants of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

French authorities passed on images showing “potential objects in the vicinity of the southern corridor” of the search area for the plane, Malaysia’s acting transportation minister said Sunday.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

“Malaysia immediately relayed these images to the Australian rescue coordination center,” Hishammuddin Hussein said.

Satellite images previously issued by Australian and Chinese authorities have also pointed to possible large floating objects, stoking hopes searchers may find debris.

The added images from France were coupled with the addition of new planes to the search.

On Sunday, eight airplanes flew over the southern Indian Ocean searching for the missing plane, said Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman Andrea Hayward-Maher.

- Advertisement -

That’s two planes more than Saturday, and the most aircraft involved in the search led by Australia so far, she said.

Two more planes that have arrived in Australia from China will join the search on Monday. Two Japanese planes in Australia are also preparing to participate, Hishammuddin said.

Sunday’s search was a visual search, AMSA rescue spokesman Mike Barton told reporters. Eyes took precedence over radar.

The planes planned to base their movements on Chinese satellite images of debris and drift modeling, the AMSA said.

- Advertisement -

On Saturday, searchers found a wooden pallet as well as strapping belts, AMSA’s John Young said. The use of wooden pallets is common in the airline industry.

“It’s a possible lead … but pallets are used in the shipping industry as well.” he said Sunday. Authorities have said random debris is often found in the ocean.

The Sunday search has been split into two areas that cover 59,000 square kilometers (23,000 square miles) about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth.

Only one ship, the HMAS Success, an Australian naval vessel, will be involved in the Sunday search, Barton said. A Norwegian merchant ship previously involved was released in anticipation of rough weather.

The flying distance to and from the search area presents a big challenge for search aircraft. “They’re operating at the limits of their endurance,” Barton said. The distance is forcing searchers to spread the search out over multiple days.

Hope, only hope

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott voiced hope.

“We have now had a number of very credible leads, and there is increasing hope — no more than hope, no more than hope — that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen to this ill-fated aircraft,” Abbott said at a press conference.

In one of the great aviation mysteries in history, the airliner carrying 239 people disappeared March 8 after it took off from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on a flight to Beijing. An exhaustive search covering 2.97 million square miles — nearly the size of the continental United States — has yielded some clues, but no evidence of where the Boeing 777 is or what happened to it.

NASA satellites to be employed

A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon, one of the military’s most sophisticated reconnaissance planes, on Sunday refocused on an area highlighted in Chinese satellite images of a large object floating in the southern Indian Ocean. The object the Chinese satellite photographed is estimated to be 22.5 meters long and 13 meters wide (74 feet by 43 feet), officials said.

The plane was forced to fly at an altitude of just 300 feet because of low cloud ceilings and poor visibility.

Conditions were terrible, said Lt. Cmdr. Adam Schantz, the officer in charge of P-8 operations in Perth.

As a result of the satellite sighting, plans are under way to acquire more imagery within the next few days, NASA said Saturday.

The space agency said it will check archives of satellite data and use space-based assets such as the Earth-Observing-1 satellite and the ISERV camera on the International Space Station to scour for possible crash sites. The resolution of these images could be used to identify objects of about 98 feet (30 meters) or larger.

The floating object reported in the Chinese satellite images was about 77 miles from where earlier satellite images issued by Australia spotted floating debris.

During Saturday’s search, a civil aircraft reported sighting with the naked eye some small objects floating, including the wooden pallet, AMSA said. These objects were within a radius of 5 kilometers (3 miles).

Debris is a common sight in that part of the ocean and includes containers that fall off ships.

Countries from central Asia to Australia are also engaged in the search along an arc drawn by authorities based on satellite pings received from the plane hours after it vanished. One arc tracks the southern Indian Ocean zone that’s the focus of current attention.

The other arc tracks over parts of Cambodia, Laos, China and into Kazakhstan.

CNN’s Mitra Mobasherat reported from Kuala Lumpur. Faith Karimi in Atlanta and CNN’s Elizabeth Joseph contributed to this report.