Missing Malaysian jet: Washed up metal piece sparks speculations
Perth/Canberra: The search for the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that went missing March 8 took a new twist and set off fresh speculations Wednesday with reports of some unidentified material washing ashore on the southwestern coast of Australia.
“Western Australia police have attended a report of material washed ashore 10 km east of Augusta (a town 300 km south of Perth) and have secured the material,” the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said in its latest update Wednesday afternoon.
“The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is examining the photographs of the material to determine whether further physical analysis is required and if there is any relevance to the search of missing flight MH370,” it said.
The ATSB has also provided the photographs to the Malaysian investigation team, the JACC said, adding that no further information was available at this time.
the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has said it has been told material reported to have washed ashore Wednesday is "metallic and about 2.5 metres long", according to Xinhua.
Western Australia's Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis said it was possible the pieces found could have come from the missing flight.
"It wouldn't surprise me if sooner or later... if there was debris floating, it would end up on the West Australian coast," he told ABC local radio in Perth.
But Francis stressed that he did not have any information to suggest the debris was from the missing flight.
Local media in Western Australia said that an ATSB spokesman confirmed that the piece of debris was "interesting" and its report described the unidentified material as "sheet metal with rivets".
The planned air search activities were suspended Wednesday due to poor weather conditions in the search area in the southern Indian Ocean west of Australia.
“Three aircraft had already departed for today's search area prior to the suspension taking effect. They have been recalled,” the JACC said in a stament earlier Wednesday.
“Current weather conditions are resulting in heavy seas and poor visibility and are making air search activities ineffective and potentially hazardous.”
However, it said that the 12 ships involved in Wednesday's search operation would continue with their planned activities.
According to the JACC, the Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) has completed 80 percent of the planned underwater search for the missing jet's wreckage.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished mysteriously about an hour after taking off for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur shortly after midnight March 8.
The Boeing 777-200ER was scheduled to land in Beijing the same morning. The 227 passengers on board included five Indians, 154 Chinese and 38 Malaysians.
In another development, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday that he has "no advice whatsoever to suggest that there is any truth at all" in a report by a Malaysian newspaper that the missing Malaysian aircraft has landed somewhere instead of having ended in the southern Indian Ocean.
"Our expert advice is that the aircraft went down somewhere in the Indian Ocean. We have identified a probable impact zone which is about 700 km long, about 80 km wide and based on the detections from what we still believe was the black box recorder," he said at a press conference in Canberra.
The New Straits Times of Malaysia in a front page exclusive report Monday, quoting members of the International Investigation Team (IIT) based in Kuala Lumpur, claimed they were thinking of starting right from the beginning to solve the case of MH370.
That the aircraft may have landed elsewhere than the southern Indian Ocean was under consideration, the report said.
Abbott said "under-sea searching" was being conducted at the moment within a circle with a radius of about 12 km, an area of just under 400 sq km.
He stressed that the search operation was still going on and would continue.
"We haven't finished the search. We haven't found anything yet in the area that we're searching, but the point I make is that Australia will not rest until we have done everything we humanly can to get to the bottom of this mystery."
He said "there is reasonable hope of finding something" while pledging Australia "will not let down the families of the 239 people who were on that plane by lightly surrendering".
While more than 80 percent of the focused underwater search area has been completed by Wednesday morning, Abbott said if at the end of that period nothing is found "we are not going to abandon the search".