MH370 search will be ‘long haul’, says minister

Reporters and photographers attend the daily MH370 press conference at Sama Sama Hotel, on March 21, 2014. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Reporters and photographers attend the daily MH370 press conference at Sama Sama Hotel, on March 21, 2014. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

SEPANG, March 21 — Save for one unconfirmed satellite sighting of a “blob” that may belong to flight MH370, Malaysian authorities conceded today that the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane is going to be a “long haul” one.

Despite the dim prospects of a positive outcome as the search enters its 14th day, acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein told a daily press conference here that Malaysia still believes it can find the missing Boeing 777 aircraft, and may possibly even rescue some, if not all, the 239 people on board.

The minister acknowledged international concern that time, and the battery power is for the flight data recorders or the “black box” on board the passenger jetliner — designed to send out “pings” for 30 days — is running out, which gives the Malaysia-led international search team just more two weeks to recover the plane.

Still, Hishammuddin insisted, the search for MH370 will go on.

“No, we will continue,” he told a journalist who asked if Malaysia would call off the search after the 30-day period expires on April 6.

“We are still motivated in the search, and insyallah, the rescue,” he said.

He reiterated the case of Air France flight AF447, where the investigators took two years to locate the aircraft’s black boxes as an example of the length of time it took to close the book on that disaster.

Hishammuddin also conceded that the long-drawn affair added frustration to the families of passengers, some of whom had stormed into the media room on Wednesday, March 19, demanding Malaysian authorities to be more forthcoming with information.

“It is a very, very difficult situation because the one question they want to know is the answer to which we do not have, which is where are their loved ones and where is the aeroplane,” he said.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has been missing for two weeks exactly since it departed the Kuala Lumpur International Airport here for Beijing on March 8.

Searches are ongoing along two wide arcs that experts believe the plane may have taken after it deviated west.

The first, a northern corridor, would have put it over land on a central Asian path.

But satellite images of two indistinct “blobs” in the southern Indian Ocean, some 2,500km off Western Australia — putting it in the second arc where the plane could have flown.

Investigators said it is the “best lead” they have at the moment of finding the aircraft and its passengers.

If the objects are established to the debris from MH370, Hishammuddin said, searchers may use underwater equipment that detect  “pings” or electronic pulses emitted from the plane’s flight data recorder, to search for the aircraft that may have sunk deep into the ocean.

“The French team used it to locate their aircraft but very limited countries have that capability and I’ve been talking to the leaders of those countries of the possibilities of using it, or being given the chance of opportunity to use it,” said Hishammuddin.

With 14 days gone, crash investigator have just a little more than two weeks before the emergency beacons from the flight data and cockpit voice recorders exhaust their 30-day batteries.

The search team will have a difficult time picking up the ultrasonic pingers considering the vast compass of the ocean, the temperature of the waters and depth of the identified location.

“It is a challenge but we are using every possible asset that’s available to locate the aeroplane,” Hishammuddin said today.

He gave an assurance that some of the most sophisticated war machines have been deployed to aid in the search.

Malaysia’s defence minister also said he will be calling up US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel tonight to request further assistance, including the use of remotely-operated vehicles for deep ocean salvage.