Potential leads on the missing Malaysian jetliner keep coming. So do the setbacks and frustrations.
Four orange objects spotted by aircraft searching for the plane in the treacherous Indian Ocean turned out to be fishing equipment, Australian officials said Monday.
Flight Lt. Russell Adams had described the objects found Sunday as the “most promising leads.”
But on further analysis, they turned out to be fishing equipment, once again dashing hopes of finding the jetliner that vanished March 8.
“We are searching a vast area of ocean, and we are working on quite limited information,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters Monday. “Nevertheless, the best brains in the world are applying themselves to this task. … If this mystery is solvable, we will solve it.”
The area of the search is 254,000 square kilometers (98,069 miles) that 10 planes and 11 ships were searching Monday. It’s the most vessels to comb the search area so far.
Search crews from various nations have found an array of potential leads, only to later shoot down any links to the missing plane. They’ve included dead jelly fish and other garbage floating in the southern Indian Ocean.
Race against time
With every passing minute, it becomes harder to find the flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders. Batteries on the “pinger” — the beacon that sends a signal from recorders — are designed to last about 30 days.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared 23 days ago en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
An Australian ship fitted with a U.S. ping detector is set to join the search Monday in a desperate race against time.
The focus is on helping find the flight recorders. Find the pinger and you find the recorders. Find the recorders, experts say, and you are steps closer to solving the mystery of Flight 370. Flight data recorders capture a wide array of information, including altitudes, air speeds and engine temperatures.
Crews loaded an American pinger locator and undersea search equipment onto the Ocean Shield, an offshore support vessel of the Australian navy. The ship was originally set to depart Monday morning, but authorities said it would be delayed by several hours for an inspection.
It will take the ship up to three days to reach the search area.
But that’s just one of the many hurdles.
‘Conclusive piece of debris’
U.S. Navy Cmdr. William Marks told CNN’s “State of the Union” that his team needs a conclusive piece of debris to narrow down the search area before they deploy the equipment.
“We have to be careful not to send it in the wrong place,” he said. “But we also wanted to get it out there as close as we can to what we believe is the right place.”
Soon, a new Australian Joint Agency Coordination Center will take charge of synchronizing search efforts, acting Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.
And Malaysia will ask the United States about the possibility of deploying more military assets.
If located, the black box could provide crucial insight into what caused the aircraft to vanish with 239 people aboard en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Abbott said he wouldn’t set a time frame on the search for the missing plane.
“We can keep searching for quite some time to come. We will keep searching for quite some time to come. … The intensity of our search and the magnitude of our operations is increasing, not decreasing,” he said.
And so is frustration among relatives of those aboard the doomed flight.
Dozens of Chinese family members of those aboard the flight visited a Kuala Lumpur temple Monday. They chanted, lit candles and meditated.
“Chinese are kindhearted people,” said Jiang Hui, the families’ designated representative. “But we can clearly distinguish between the good and evil. We will never forgive for covering the truth from us and the criminal who delayed the rescue mission.”
Jiang asked Malaysia to apologize for announcing on March 24 that the plane had crashed even though there was no “direct evidence.”
Of the 239 people aboard the jetliner, 154 were Chinese.
Family members have accused Malaysian officials of giving them confusing, conflicting information since the plane vanished more than three weeks ago.
A ‘most difficult’ meeting
Last week, relatives were told everyone aboard had died. But Hishammuddin told reporters Saturday he had not closed the door on the hope that there could be survivors.
“It was the most difficult meeting I’ve ever attended,” he said about his meeting with the family members. “The families are heartbroken. For many, the strain of the past few weeks has been unbearable.”
Beijing has also publicly slammed Malaysia’s efforts to find the Boeing 777. But Malaysia says it’s done its best with what it has.
“History will judge us as a country that has been very responsible,” Hishammuddin said.
On Monday, he said Prime Minister Najib Razak had not used the words “crash” or mentioned a lack of survivors in his announcement that the plane’s flight had “ended” in the southern Indian Ocean.
He said Malaysia will hold a high-level briefing for families where experts will explain some of the data and methodology used to guide the search.
He also said authorities have discussed with the families what happens if they are unable to find debris from the missing plane. But he declined to discuss it with reporters Monday, saying “to be fair to the families, that is something I would not want to share with the public at the moment.”
The latest data analysis shows the plane ended up in the southern Indian Ocean.
Hishammuddin declined to discuss transcripts of communications between the plane and flight controllers, or the plane’s specific route after it lost contact, saying the information is part of several inquiries into what happened.
“We are not hiding anything. We are just following the procedure that is being set.” he said.
“I don’t think it’s going to show anything sinister,”
Data recorders are built to withstand the rigors of flight and the trauma of crashes.
The pinger locator can detect flight recorders on downed aircraft to a maximum depth of 20,000 feet. The autonomous underwater vehicle has side-scanning sonar that is useful in a debris field with underwater objects, Rear Adm. John Kirby said.
Under favorable sea conditions, the pingers can be heard 2 nautical miles away. But high seas, background noise, wreckage or silt can all make pingers harder to detect.
Similar technology was used successfully in the hunt for Air France Flight 447, which disappeared in June 2009.