Flight MH370: Bad weather again hampers plane search

Chinese Air Force Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft in Perth, 27 March Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Australian officials say the bad weather could continue for 24 hours

An air search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has again been suspended because of bad weather in the southern Indian Ocean.

Eight planes reached the zone but faced zero visibility and are returning to base. Ships will try to continue the search, Australian officials said.

On Wednesday, Malaysian officials revealed fresh satellite images showing a possible debris field.

Flight MH370 disappeared on 8 March with 239 people on board.

It had been en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it disappeared from air traffic controllers' screens over the South China Sea.

So far, not a single item of debris linked to the missing plane has been recovered.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa), co-ordinating the search, said that aircraft had spotted three objects on Wednesday but despite several passes had not been able to relocate them.

Satellite images

As dawn broke on Thursday, Amsa said six military aircraft, five civilian aircraft and five ships would be taking part in the day's search operations.

However, Amsa later tweeted: "Update: Ships staying in search area & will attempt to continue searching but all planes returning. Bad weather expected for next 24 hours."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Lt Cmdr Adam Schantz said on Thursday: "All additional sorties from here are cancelled"

Amsa spokesman Sam Cardwell said eight of the 11 planes had reached the search zone and looked for about two hours before the suspension.

He said: "They got a bit of time in, but it was not useful because there was no visibility."

Lt Cmdr Adam Schantz, in charge of the US Navy's Poseidon P8 plane, said: "The forecast in the area was calling for severe icing, severe turbulence and near-zero visibility. Anybody who's out there is coming home and all additional sorties from here are cancelled."

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Media captionThe area is known as "the Roaring Forties" due to its strong winds

It is the second time this week the operation has been hampered by poor conditions.

The Australian Navy ship HMAS Success has been in the search area about 2,500km (1,500 miles) south-west of Perth and has been joined by four Chinese ships - Xue Long, Kuulunshan, Haikon and Qiandaohu.

A total of six countries are now involved in the search - Australia, New Zealand, the US, Japan, China and the South Korea.

On Wednesday, Malaysia's acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said a French satellite had located some 122 objects that could be from the missing airliner.

The images, taken on 23 March, showed objects up to 23m (75ft) in length, he said.

Analysts say the images are the first to suggest a debris field from the plane, rather than just isolated objects. Mr Hussein described the new images as the most credible lead so far.

Erik Van Sebille, an oceanographer from the University of New South Wales, told the BBC that if aircraft debris was found, experts could try to work out where the plane had crashed, although it would not be easy.

"This is home to the strongest current in the world," he said.

"Every day debris could move by easily 50, 100km... and it's not only in one direction, it's actually rather turbulent. This ocean is full of what we call 'eddies' and they are essentially mini hurricanes that spread everything out."

Malaysia said on Monday that fresh analysis of satellite signals showed that the plane had gone down in the southern Indian Ocean, with no survivors.

The reasons why the plane deviated off course and lost contact with air traffic controllers remain a mystery.

Investigators have ruled nothing out, including mechanical or electrical failure, hijacking, sabotage or deliberate action by the pilot or co-pilot.

On Wednesday, FBI chief James Comey said that analysis of data from a flight simulator taken from the home of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah was nearly finished.

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Media captionBoth Malaysia Airlines and Boeing are facing legal action over flight MH370

"I have teams working literally round-the-clock," Mr Comey told members of Congress.

"I expect it to be done fairly shortly - within a day or two."

In the absence of any debris from the plane, some relatives of the flight's 153 Chinese passengers have refused the accept the Malaysian account of events and accused officials of withholding information.

A US-based law firm, Ribbeck Law, has said it expects to represent half of the families of missing passengers in a lawsuit against both Malaysia Airlines and Boeing Co, and has filed an initial petition.

Chinese insurance firms have begun to offer payouts to the relatives, state news agency Xinhua said.

On Thursday, Malaysia Airlines took out a full-page condolence advertisement in the New Straits Times, saying: "Our sincerest condolences go out to the loved ones of the 239 passengers, friends and colleagues. Words alone cannot express our enormous sorrow and pain."