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Better weather to aid search for MH370

Published on Mar 21, 2014 8:00 AM
 
Royal Australian Air Force Tactical Coordinator Imray Cooray coordinates with fellow crew members aboard an AP-3C Orion during the search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 on March 20, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS/AUSTRALIAN DEFENCE FORCE

SYDNEY (AFP) - Improving weather conditions should help the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on Friday, forecasters said, as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott vowed everything "humanly possible" was being done to find the aircraft.

Grainy satellite imagery taken on Sunday detected a pair of floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean which Malaysia and Australia called a credible lead in the drawn-out hunt for the jet that vanished on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew on board.

But four planes from Australia, New Zealand and the United States that flew over a 23,000 sq km area of the vast ocean some 2,500km south-west of Perth on Thursday saw nothing of significance, hampered by low clouds.

"The weather conditions were such that we were unable to see for very much of the flight," Royal Australian Air Force Flight Lieutenant Chris Birrer told reporters of his crew's sortie.

But conditions are improving, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology told AFP.

"Showers associated with the passage of a cold front on Thursday, which saw low cloud and drizzle affect visibility, are easing," the bureau said.

"Winds are currently 15-20 knots, with swell 2 to 2.5m, and also easing. Overall conditions are expected to slowly improve today for the search operations in the area." The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which Malaysia tasked with heading the southern Indian Ocean search, said the four planes would leave again Friday on further missions to try and find the two objects, one as large as 24m in size.

MILITARY JETS DISPATCHED

"Today's search will utilise four military aircraft, including two RAAF Orions, tasked by the ASMA to search a 23,000km area, about 2,500km south-west of Perth," AMSA said in a statement Friday.

A Norwegian merchant ship is currently in the search area and AMSA said another merchant ship was expected Friday evening, but Australia's HMAS Success, which is capable of retrieving any wreckage, was still some days away.

New Zealand Air Commodore Mike Yardley, commenting to TV3 on the sortie flown by the New Zealand P3 Orion on Thursday, warned that "there's a lot of debris out there in the ocean".

"Our crews picked up debris out there that was not part of the aircraft," he said.

"Our radar will pick up containers that have fallen off container vessels as well, and last night our radar system was picking up marine life - whales and dolphins." Mr Abbott, who first announced the potential breakthrough to Parliament on Thursday, again cautioned that they were looking in "a remarkably isolated location in very deep and inaccessible ocean".

"Nevertheless, we are throwing all the resources we can at it," he said late Thursday after arriving in Papua New Guinea for a visit.

"We will do everything we humanly can to try to get to the bottom of this.

"We don't know what that satellite saw until we can get a much better, much closer, look at it. But this is the first tangible breakthrough in what up until now has been an utterly baffling mystery."

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