U.S. equipment designed to detect black box signals arrived in Australia on Wednesday, as searchers stepped up efforts to find some trace of a Malaysian airliner thought to have crashed 18 days ago thousands of miles off course in the Indian Ocean.
A dozen aircraft from Australia, the United States, New Zealand, China, Japan and South Korea were once more scouring the seas some 2,500 km (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth in the hunt for wreckage, after bad weather on Tuesday forced the suspension of the search.
“The crash zone is as close to nowhere as it’s possible to be but it’s closer to Australia than anywhere else,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, before leading the country’s parliament in a moment’s silence.
“A considerable amount of debris has been sighted in the area where the flight was last recorded. Bad weather and inaccessibility has so far prevented any of it from being recovered. But we are confident that it will be.”
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak this week confirmed that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished while flying to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, had crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.
Citing satellite-data analysis by British company Inmarsat, he said there was no doubt the Boeing 777 came down in one of the most remote places on Earth – an implicit admission that all 239 people on board had died.
Recovery of wreckage could unlock clues about why and how the plane had diverted so far off course in one of aviation’s most puzzling mysteries. Theories range from a hijacking to sabotage or a possible suicide by one of the pilots, but investigators have not ruled out technical problems.
PASSENGER RELATIVES DISTRAUGHT
An Australian navy ship returned to the area after being driven away by gale force winds and 20-metre (66 ft) waves on Tuesday, while a Chinese icebreaker and three Chinese navy vessels are now in the search zone.
Early flights, including a Japanese P3-Orion were returning from the search on Wednesday afternoon and an AMSA spokesman said no objects had so far been spotted.
The United States has sent an undersea Navy drone and a high-tech black box detector which will be fitted to an Australian Defence vessel due in Perth in the coming days.
The so-called black boxes – the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder – record what happens during flight, but time is running out to pick up locator beacons that stop about a month after a crash due to limited battery life.
Malaysia said on Tuesday that the U.S. “Towed Pinger Locator” would not arrive in the search area until April 5, which would give it only a few days to find the black box before the beacon battery would be expected to run out.
The prolonged and so far fruitless search and investigation have taken a toll, with dozens of distraught relatives of Chinese passengers clashing with police in Beijing on Tuesday, accusing Malaysia of “delays and deception”.
Malaysia’s confused initial response to the plane’s disappearance and a perception of poor communications has enraged many relatives of the more than 150 Chinese passengers and has strained ties between Beijing and Kuala Lumpur.
Chinese special envoy, Zhang Yesui, is meeting with Malaysia’s Najib on Wednesday, state media reported.