Malaysian PM: Flight MH370 ‘Ended’ in Southern Indian Ocean

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March 24, 2014

Able Seaman Januario Callos keeps watch on the starboard bridge-wing of HMAS Success during the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Photo (c) Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence

Citing an analysis of data from satellite provider Inmarsat Plc, Malaysia has concluded that flight MH370 crashed in the southern Indian ocean.

By David Fickling, Manirajan Ramasamy and Ranjeetha Pakiam

March 24 (Bloomberg) — Malaysia concluded that the missing jetliner crashed in the southern Indian Ocean with no hope of survivors, ruling out theories of a detour over Asia or an island landing, as the search for wreckage drags on.

An analysis of satellite data shows that the Boeing Co. 777-200ER “flew along the southern corridor and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth,” Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters today in Kuala Lumpur after another fruitless day of air and sea patrols.

“This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites,” Najib said. “It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian ocean.”

Najib’s statement capped a day in which sightings of objects adrift at sea raised optimism for a breakthrough in the longest-running disappearance in the modern airline era. He shed no new light on why Flight 370 with its 239 passengers and crew diverted from a planned Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing route on March 8 and ended up traveling in the opposite direction.

The prime minister’s announcement triggered fresh outbursts of grief from relatives gathered in a Beijing hotel awaiting news on a search now in its 17th day. About two-thirds of the travelers on the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. 777 were Chinese.

Relatives’ Reaction

A middle-aged woman who came out of the hotel’s grand ballroom in front of the assembled television cameras screamed, “All my family are gone.” One man was taken out from the room on a stretcher, and another emerged and began hitting and kicking journalists before being restrained by police.

“Our prayers go out to all the loved ones of the 226 passengers and of our 13 friends and colleagues at this enormously painful time,” the airline said in a statement. “We know there are no words that we or anyone else can say which can ease your pain.”

Najib cited an analysis of data from satellite provider Inmarsat Plc and the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch as showing that the plane took a southerly track after radar and voice contact was lost as it neared Vietnamese airspace. Pings tracked by satellite had suggested either a northward arc over Asia or, more strongly, the southerly route that the prime minister confirmed today.

Search Focus

That course had been the focus of the search for more than a week, while Malaysia hadn’t ruled out the prospect of a track that took Flight 370 over Asia. Bloomberg News reported March 15 that the last satellite transmission from the jet placed it over the Indian Ocean.

Searchers in the region came up empty again today.

HMAS Success from the Royal Australian Navy found nothing, said Andrea Hayward-Maher, a spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, after an Australian Air Force P3 Orion cruising overhead saw a gray or green circular object and an orange rectangular item.

The items are separate from those reported by Chinese aircraft earlier today, which the Australians will try to pursue as a U.S. Navy plane came up empty. The crew of a Chinese IL-76 plane reported sighting two “relatively big” floating objects, state-run Xinhua News Agency said.

“Time is really not on our side,” Lieutenant David Levy, a spokesman for the U.S. Seventh Fleet, said by phone from the USS Blue Ridge in the South China Sea. “But we’re going to keep going. That’s our mission.”

Offshore Search

The objects spotted by the Australian plane were in an area about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told lawmakers in Canberra, without providing coordinates. A U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft as well as an Orion plane each from Australia and Japan are either in the search area or headed there, Abbott said.

The objects could be received by tomorrow morning at the latest, Malaysia’s Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said at a briefing in Kuala Lumpur today.

Chinese aircraft photographed a square floating object, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a briefing in Beijing. The icebreaker Xuelong and three Chinese naval ships are due to arrive in the search area tomorrow or March 26, Hong said.

The Chinese asked for Australian aircraft to further scan the area around the coordinates of 95.1113 degrees east longitude and 42.5453 south latitude, Xinhua said. Many white smaller objects were scattered within a radius of several kilometers of the two objects, the agency said.

Police Interviews

Police have interviewed more than 100 people, including families of the pilot and co-pilot, Hishammuddin said. Authorities are considering releasing a copy of the transcript of the pilot’s conversations with the ground, he said. Malaysia’s Inspector General of Police will brief the press tomorrow.

A home-computer flight simulator belonging to the jet’s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, has produced no clear leads for investigators, Hishammuddin said.

Flight 370 was carrying wooden pallets, Hishammuddin said. The aircraft also carried 200 kilograms of lithium-ion batteries, radios and fruit. “There are new leads, but nothing conclusive,” he said of the search.

A wooden pallet spotted from a civil search aircraft was among a number of small objects spread over 5 kilometers and could be of the kind used in planes, Mike Barton, an AMSA official, told reporters yesterday. Military aircraft haven’t been able to duplicate that sighting.

U.S. Aid

The U.S. Navy is sending a black-box locator “closer to the search area,” Commander Chris Budde, U.S. Seventh Fleet Operations Officer, said in an e-mailed statement. The Towed Pinger Locator System, pulled by a vessel at speeds from one to five knots, can detect the black-box pinger to a depth of about 20,000 feet, he said.

The black box is supposed to emit pings for 30 days after becoming immersed in water. While black boxes are designed to withstand depths of 20,000 feet and may work in even deeper water, the range of the pings is a mile, according to manuals from Honeywell International Inc., the maker of the equipment.

The ocean in the area is about 1 kilometer to 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) deep, AMSA said by e-mail.

Two locators and a third one attached to a faster-moving French nuclear submarine covered about 22,000 square kilometers in 31 days in their search for Air France flight 447, according to a 2009 report into the operation.

Two Years

The beacon wasn’t located during that hunt and the crashed Airbus Group NV A330 was only found two years later in an underwater sonar search.

China’s satellite imagery depicted a floating object 22.5 meters (74 feet) long. The picture, taken March 18, is focused 90 degrees east and almost 45 degrees south, versus almost 91 degrees east and 44 degrees south for similar items on a March 16 satellite image, according to China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense. That put the object 120 kilometers southwest of the earlier satellite sighting, the administration said.

The dimensions appear similar to those of the larger of two objects seen previously, said to be 24 meters long. A Boeing 777-200 is 63 meters long, with a wingspan of 61 meters and a diameter of 6.2 meters.

The Royal Australian Navy’s Ocean Shield, equipped with a subsea remotely operated vehicle, and the HMS Echo, a specialist ship from Britain’s Royal Navy fitted with underwater listening gear and devices to survey the seabed, were on their way to the zone.

The U.S. was asked by Malaysia to provide similar search technology, the Defense Department said in a statement.

–With assistance from Michael Sin, Michael Heath and Angus Whitley in Sydney, Barry Porter in Kuala Lumpur, Shamim Adam in Singapore, Gopal Ratnam, John Hughes, Del Quentin Wilber, Michelle Jamrisko, Greg Giroux and Alan Levin in Washington, Aipeng Soo and Henry Sanderson in Beijing, Marie Mawad in Paris and Jason Scott in Canberra.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg.

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