Aus PM says 'no time limit' for plane search; leads draw blank

Last Updated : 31 March 2014, 14:13 IST
Last Updated : 31 March 2014, 14:13 IST

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There is no time limit on resolving the "extraordinary mystery" of the missing Malaysian jet, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said today, even as the latest leads on possible plane debris turned out to be false alarms.

Bad weather conditions today forced the Australia-led search team to suspend operations for locating the debris of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the Indian Ocean.

The search had been intensified today with 10 aircraft and 10 ships combing 254,000 sq km area.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said the orange objects spotted by a plane have turned out to be nothing more than fishing equipment.

The objects had been analysed and spokesman Jesse Platts said "they have nothing to do with the missing flight."

"We can keep searching for quite some time to come and we will keep searching for quite some time to come. I'm certainly not putting a time limit on it," Abbott told reporters at the Perth's Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base Pearce.

"This is an extraordinarily difficult exercise...we are searching a vast area of ocean and we are working on quite limited information," he said

Appreciating the contribution of those who were involved in the search operation, Abbott said the "best brains in the world" are on the task but until any wreckage was found, authorities will have to keep relying on "guesstimates".

"All of the technological mastery that we have is being applied. So if this mystery is solvable, we will solve it," he said, adding "But I don't want to underestimate just how difficult it is".

"We owe it to the families, we owe it to everyone that travels by air, we owe it to the anxious governments of the countries who had people on that aircraft. We owe it to the wider world which has been transfixed by this mystery for three weeks now," Abbott said.

There have been a number of sightings in the new area about 1,100 km northeast of the previous search zone which was changed after radar data showed the plane had been traveling faster that previously thought, thus burning more fuel.

Search crews from various nations have found an array of potential leads, only to later shoot down any links to the missing plane. They have included dead jelly fish and other garbage floating in the southern Indian Ocean.

The Beijing-bound jetliner - carrying 239 people, including five Indians, an Indo-Canadian and 154 Chinese nationals - had vanished 23 days ago after taking off from Kuala Lumpur and crashed in the remote southern Indian Ocean.

Abbott said, "It demonstrates that in a humanitarian cause, the nations of this region can come together to work for the betterment of humanity, can work to try to resolve this extraordinary mystery, can work to try to bring peace and closure to the families of the 239 people on board that ill-fated aircraft."  

"It's only reasonable that we should bear this cost. It's an act of international citizenship on Australia's part. At some point there might need to be a reckoning," Abbott said.

"There might have to be some kind of tallying, but nevertheless we are happy to be as helpful as we can to all of the countries with a stake in this, and let's not forget it's not just Malaysia, there's China obviously which had the largest number of citizens on the aircraft," he said.

Abbott said retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, country's former defence force chief, will lead a new joint agency co-ordination centre (JACC) in Perth to find the debris of the stricken jetliner.

Malaysian Defence and Transport Minister Hishamuddin Hussein today stressed that Malaysia's prime minister Najib Razak never said that the missing plane crashed into the Indian Ocean with no survivors.

A week ago Malaysia Airlines said it was assumed that the plane's journey ended over the Ocean with no survivors. Najib did not use the the phrase "no survivors".

Hishamuddin also announced that Najib will travel to Perth to see the search operations first hand.

"Our prime minister has decided to travel to Perth on Wednesday for a working visit to Pearce Air force base to see the operations first hand and also to thank the personnel involved in the multinational search effort, including the Malaysian personnel," Hishammuddin said during a press briefing in Kuala Lumpur.

Hishammuddin described his meeting with relatives of the missing as the most difficult he has ever had. He repeated that Malaysia will not give up hope.

Possible debris sightings by Chinese, Australian and New Zealand military planes did not yield any solid clues in one the most baffling aviation mysteries, compounding the frustration of families who have been waiting for more than three weeks to get detailed and confirmed information on the 239 missing passengers onboard Flight MH370.

Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately diverted by someone on board.

The scenerio has brought pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, under intense scrutiny, but no evidence has emerged to implicate them.

Zaharie's daughter Aishah today accused a British tabloid of producing a report "out of thin air" alleging that her father was "disturbed" due to marital trouble.

Published 31 March 2014, 14:13 IST

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