No Sign Of Malaysian Airliner On Day 2 Of Search Off Australia

By: Michael Pearson, Ray Sanchez, Jethro Mullen, Mitra Mobasherat, Kyung Lah, Mike Ahlers, Chelsea J. Carter, Brian Walker, Elizabeth Joseph, Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz
By: Michael Pearson, Ray Sanchez, Jethro Mullen, Mitra Mobasherat, Kyung Lah, Mike Ahlers, Chelsea J. Carter, Brian Walker, Elizabeth Joseph, Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz

(CNN) -- Another day. Still nothing.

Australian authorities said Friday they had called off their search for the day for two mystery objects that may or may not be parts of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Military surveillance planes, a commercial jet and two merchant ships combing the area failed to find any trace of the objects, which were spotted Sunday by a satellite in the treacherous waters of the southern Indian Ocean. The spot is more than 1,400 miles from the west coast of Australia.

Flight 370 vanished 14 days ago with 239 people aboard. The announcement Thursday by Australian officials that they had spotted something raised hopes of a breakthrough in a frustrating search that has yielded few clues about what might have happened to the plane after it stopped communicating with the ground, appeared to veer wildly off course then dropped out of sight for good.

On Friday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended the decision to announce the find, saying that Australia owes it to families of those missing "to give them information as soon as it's to hand."

As he had Thursday, Abbott warned again that the two objects may not be from the plane.

"It could just be a container that has fallen off a ship," he said during a visit to Papua New Guinea. "We just don't know."

On Friday, Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia's interim transportation minister, tried to reset expectations for a quick resolution to the mystery after the satellite discovery.

"This is going to be a long haul," he said.

Search intensifies

Conditions for the southern Indian Ocean search have improved since Thursday, said John Young, emergency response manager for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. Flight crews were able to search for the objects visually rather than using radar, he said.

"That's encouraging," he said. "But we have no sightings yet."

Given the distance from Australia to where the objects were spotted by the satellite, aircraft had about two hours in the search area before having to return to base.

Patrol aircraft may have to repeat flights like those taken Thursday and Friday "a few times" before authorities can be confident they've covered the whole area, he said.

The United Kingdom was sending the HMS Echo to the scene to aid a growing international flotilla searching the southern Indian Ocean. The ship is an ocean surveying vessel, according to the UK Defense Ministry website.

Australia is sending a ship, the HMAS Success, and Chinese and Malaysian vessels are also steaming to the area to join a massive Norwegian cargo ship diverted there Thursday at the request of Australia.

Along with the naval vessels and military patrol aircraft, a motley collection of merchant ships are heading to the search area, where they will join the Norwegian merchant vessel.

The sailors aboard the Norwegian ship worked throughout the night looking for the objects, said Erik Gierchsky, a spokesman for the Norwegian Shipowners Association.

The window for finding the objects could be narrow. Another round of bad weather like the one that hampered the initial day of searching Thursday could rake the area, according to CNN meteorologists.

The locator beacons are also an issue. They are designed to sound for at least 16 more days and could continue to go off for a few more after that, according to the company that believes it made the device installed on the missing plane.

But the depths of the search area could make finding them very difficult, experts say.

Hishammuddin put out a call for underwater listening devices called hydrophones to aid the search.

Search continues elsewhere

Countries from central Asia to Australia continue to search for the plane along an arc drawn by authorities based on satellite pings received from the plane for hours after it vanished. One of those arcs tracks the southern Indian Ocean zone that's the focus of current attention.

The other tracks over parts of Cambodia, Laos, China and into Kazakhstan, where authorities said Thursday they had found no trace of the plane.

Hishammuddin said Friday that Malaysian authorities were awaiting permission from Kazakhstan's government to use the country as a staging area for the northern corridor search.

That clearly signals that Malaysian authorities are not ready to give up on the possibility the plane could still be found far from the focus of current search efforts.

"Obviously, the search now has taken a global perspective," Hishammuddin said.

More details emerge

At Friday's daily news briefing, Hishammuddin said authorities were aware of news reports that Flight 370's pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, had placed a cell phone call shortly before the flight departed.

He said they had passed the information to investigators. The significance of the call was unclear.

Also, Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya acknowledged the plane was carrying a cargo of lithium-ion batteries, although he didn't specify the volume of the shipment.

Lithium-ion batteries are the type commonly used in laptops and cell phones, and have been known to explode, although that occurs rarely.

They were implicated in the fatal crash of a UPS cargo plane in Dubai in 2010, and lithium-ion batteries used to power components on Boeing 787s were blamed for fires in those planes.

There's no evidence to suggest the batteries did, or did not, play a role in the disappearance of the plane, and Yahya said they are routine cargo aboard aircraft.

"They are not declared dangerous goods" he said, adding that they were "some small batteries, not big batteries."

Deleted files sought

Malaysian authorities say they believe that the missing plane was deliberately flown off course on its scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. But they haven't so far found any clear evidence to indicate who might have changed the plane's path and why.

The pilot and first officer of the plane have come under particular scrutiny, especially in light of information suggesting a sharp turn in the flight path had been programmed into the plane's flight management system before one of the pilots gave a routine sign-off to Malaysian air traffic controllers.

Question marks remain over data that authorities say was deleted from the hard drive of a flight simulator found at Zaharie's home.

On Thursday, a U.S. official familiar with the investigation told CNN that an FBI team is confident that it will be able to retrieve at least some of the deleted files.

Investigators will also analyze websites that Zaharie and the first officer, Fariq Ab Hamid, may have visited recently, the official said on the condition of anonymity.

Passengers also continue to be investigated. On Friday, Hishammuddin said Ukraine told Malaysia that background checks on its citizens aboard the plane had come back clear.

Families frustrated

The length of the search and the often frustrating lack of information have left many family members angry. Some have accused Malaysian officials of withholding information, or at the very least failing to update them.

For the first time since the plane disappeared, Malaysia sent a high-level delegation to Beijing to brief relatives who had opted not to travel to Malaysia to wait out the search.

Hishammuddin said the 3½-hour meeting went as well as could be expected, given the lack of information about what happened to the plane.

"Although we answered most of the questions they raised, we could not answer them all," he said.

"The one question that they really want to know is the answer to which we do not have," he said, "which is: 'Where are their loved ones, and where is the airplane?'"

Selamat Omar, whose son was on board the plane, told CNN's Kate Bolduan that the wait for answers has been agonizing.

"I do feel sad, it's been 14 days," he said. "I'm still waiting for answers from the government. The sadness is still there, but I'm just going to stay strong."

Omar's son, Khairul Amri, has attracted the attention of authorities because of his experience as a flight engineer. Omar said authorities have not contacted him and he is confident his son had nothing to do with the plane's disappearance.

Fourteen days after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, finding it remains global search and rescue effort. The bulk of the attention is on the southern Indian Ocean, where a commercial satellite photographed objects that Australian authorities say could be related to the search.

Authorities have called the find the best lead yet on where the missing plane might be, and it has prompted a massive search in the area more than 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) southwest of Australia. So far, they have turned up nothing.

What's the very latest?

The search in the southern Indian Ocean is over for the day, and nothing was found. The CEO of Malaysia Airlines confirmed that the plane was carrying lithium-ion batteries. And authorities said they're aware of a news report that the plane's pilot placed a cell phone call shortly before the flight departed.

What's the significance of the phone call?

There may not be any, but in a mystery as big as this one, investigators will check out any lead to see if it's important.

And what about the batteries?

Lithium-ion batteries are the type commonly used in laptops and cell phones, and have been known to explode, although it is a rare occurrence.

A fire attributed to lithium-ion batteries caused the fatal 2010 crash of a UPS cargo plane in Dubai. Lithium-ion batteries used to power components in Boeing 787 aircraft were also implicated in a series of fires affecting that plane.
So, in theory, a cargo of the batteries could have caused a fire that led Flight 370 to crash.

But Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya told reporters the batteries were routine cargo.

"They are not declared dangerous goods" he said, adding that they were "some small batteries, not big batteries."

It's been two days since we saw the satellite photos of floating objects. Why haven't searchers found anything?

The area being searched is enormous and remote. Aircraft can stay over the scene just two hours before having to return to base. And given that the objects spotted on satellite could have drifted hundreds of miles since they were photographed Sunday, or maybe have even sunk by now, finding them isn't a simple proposition.

Japan is sending surveillance planes, more merchant ships are on the way, and Australia, Britain, China and Malaysia are all sending ships to the area -- a remote region far from commercial shipping and air lanes.

Is it possible that the plane would have gone that far?

Investigators think so. They concluded the plane flew for hours after disappearing from radar, and calculated a pair of arcs running north and south from the Malay Peninsula for likely locations. Based on those trajectories, the amount of fuel on board and other factors, experts believe the plane could have made it to the southern Indian Ocean.

When will we know whether the objects are from the missing flight?

Maybe never. Searchers might miss them, or they might have sunk by now.

But even if they do find the objects, the process of determining whether they're from the missing flight could still be lengthy.

"We have to locate it, confirm that it belongs to the aircraft, recover it and then bring it a long way back to Australia, so that could take some time," said John Young, general manager of emergency response for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority,

Could pieces of the plane still be floating?

Probably not any big pieces, according to Steve Wallace, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's former director of accident investigation. But pieces of lightweight debris, such as life jackets and seat cushions, can float for days after an aircraft strikes the water, he said.

If it's not the plane, what else could it be?

Almost anything big and buoyant. The objects were spotted in a part of the Indian Ocean known for swirling currents called gyres that can trap all sorts of floating debris. Among the leading contenders for what the objects might be, assuming they're not part of Flight 370: shipping containers that fell off a passing cargo vessel. There are reasons to doubt that theory, however. The area isn't near commercial shipping lanes, and the larger object, at an estimated 79 feet (24 meters), would seem to be nearly twice as long as a standard shipping container.

If it is the plane, would its location tell us anything about what happened on that flight?

If it really is the wreckage of the Boeing 777-200, its far southern location would provide investigators with precious clues into what terrible events unfolded to result in the disappearance and loss of the airliner, according to Robert Goyer, editor-in-chief of Flying magazine and a commercial jet-rated pilot. "The location would suggest a few very important parameters. The spot where searchers have found hoped-for clues is, based on the location information provided by the Australian government, nearly 4,000 miles from where the airliner made its unexpected and as yet unexplained turn to the west," Goyer wrote. The first obvious clue is that the airplane flew for many hours.

What do the satellite images show?

Two indistinct objects, one about 79 feet (24 meters) in length and the other about 16 feet (5 meters) long. Though they don't look like much to the untrained observer, Australian intelligence imagery experts who looked at the pictures saw enough to pass them along to the maritime safety agency, Young said. "Those who are expert indicate they are credible sightings. And the indication to me is of objects that are reasonable size and are probably awash with water, bobbing up and down out of the surface," he said.

How old are the images?

They were taken by commercial satellite imaging company DigitalGlobe on Sunday.

Why did we first hear about them on Thursday, then?

Basically, the Australians say, it's because the Indian Ocean is a very big place. The maritime safety authority said it took four days for the images to reach it "due to the volume of imagery being searched and the detailed process of analysis that followed."

Who is running the search?

The Australians are in charge of the search in their area of responsibility, which includes a large area of the southern Indian Ocean off Australia's west coast. Malaysia remains in overall control of the search.

How did they know to look in this area?

Investigators analyzing satellite pings sent by the plane concluded it was traveling along one of two arcs away from the Malay Peninsula. U.S. officials have said they believe the plane most likely traveled south and crashed into the Indian Ocean.

Searchers narrowed the area of interest by calculating the most likely locations based on time in the air, fuel usage and other factors.

It's already been 14 days. Are we running out of time to find this plane?

The locator beacons attached to flight data recorders are designed to ping for at least 30 days, but will probably keep going at full strength up to five days longer, said Anish Patel, president of Dukane Seacom Inc., the Florida company that believes it made Flight 370's beacons.

"Our predictive models and lab tests show 33-35 days of output before we drop below the minimal values," Patel told CNN. "Depending on the age of the battery, it could continue pinging for a few days longer."

Pinging is one thing. Finding the pings is another.

Not only is the area being searched vast, it is deep -- up to 13,000 feet in many places. Given that the pingers can be detected from no more than about two miles away, they could be hard to hear if they're on the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean.

Layers of different water temperatures could also make it tough to pick up the sound of the beacons, experts say.

Posted by Greg Palmer


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