Perth/Kuala Lumpur. Ten ships and as many aircraft will search a swathe of the Indian Ocean west of Perth on Sunday, trying again to find some trace of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 after more than three weeks of fruitless and frustrating hunting.
Numerous objects have been spotted in the two days since Australian authorities moved the search 1,100 km (685 miles) after new analysis of radar and satellite data concluded the Boeing 777 travelled faster and for a shorter distance after vanishing from civilian radar screens on March 8.
However, none has been confirmed as coming from Flight MH370 and time is running out to find any debris, work out a likely crash zone and recover the aircraft’s “black box” voice and data recorders before batteries pinging their location die.
An Australian navy ship fitted with a sophisticated US black box locater and an unmanned underwater drone is due to leave later on Sunday. But the ADV Ocean Shield will take days to reach the search zone, an area the size of New Mexico some 1,850 km (1,150 miles) to the west of Perth.
Malaysia says the plane, which disappeared less than an hour into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was likely diverted deliberately. Investigators have determined no apparent motive or other red flags among the 227 passengers or the 12 crew.
Weather threatens expanded search
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said aircraft from China, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the United States would be searching on Sunday.
“Weather in the search area is forecast to worsen today with light showers and low cloud, though search operations are expected to continue,” AMSA said in a statement.
Both a Chinese ship and an Australian navy vessel picked up objects yesterday but nothing has been linked to Flight MH370.
The Chinese navy vessel Jinggangshan, which carries two helicopters, reached the new search area early on Saturday where it was expected to focus on searching for plane surfaces, oil slicks and life jackets in a sea area of some 6,900 sq km, state news agency Xinhua reported.
The search, being coordinated by Australia, has involved unprecedented cooperation between more than two dozen countries and 60 aircraft and ships but has also been bedevilled by regional rivalries and an apparent reluctance to share potentially crucial information due to security concerns.
The Malaysian government has come under strong criticism from China, home to more than 150 of the passengers, where relatives of the missing have accused the government of “delays and deception”.
More than 20 Chinese relatives staged a brief protest on Saturday outside the Lido hotel in Beijing where families have been staying for the past three weeks, demanding evidence of the plane’s fate.
The peaceful protest came just days after dozens of angry relatives clashed with police after trying to storm the Malaysian embassy.
Many of Saturday’s protesters carried slogans demanding the “truth” about their lost loved ones.
“They don’t have any direct evidence,” said Steve Wang, who had a relative on the flight. “[Their conclusion] is only based on mathematical [analysis] and they used an uncertain mathematical model. Then they come to the conclusion that our relatives are all gone.”
Malaysia’s acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said his country was committed to seeing the investigation through to its final conclusion.
“What they want from us is a commitment to continue the search, and that I have given, not only on behalf of the Malaysian government but the so many nations involved,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur after speaking with families on Saturday.
For more than a week, the international effort had been scouring seas 2,500 km (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, where satellite images had shown possible debris from Flight MH370. That search zone has now been abandoned.
In the first week of the search, Vietnamese, Chinese and Malaysian ships and planes concentrated their efforts in the South China Sea.
The shift north of the search was based on painstaking analysis of Malaysian military radar data and satellite readings from British company Inmarsat.