By Barbara Demick
Los Angeles Times
BEIJING: The search and rescue teams working off the west coast of Australia seeking the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 discovered what oceanographers have been warning — that even the most far-flung stretches of ocean are full of garbage.
For the first time since the search focused on the south Indian Ocean 10 days ago, the sky was clear enough and the sea was calm, allowing ships to retrieve the “suspicious items” spotted by planes and on satellite imagery.
But examined on board, none of them proved to be debris from the missing plane, just the ordinary garbage swirling around the ocean.
“A number of objects were retrieved by HMAS Success and Haixun 01 yesterday,” reported the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in a release Sunday. “The objects have been described as fishing equipment and other flotsam.”
The disappointing results demonstrated the difficulty the search teams face trying to find out what happened to the Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers and crew. The plane disappeared March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Australian authorities said Sunday that a naval support ship, the ADV Ocean Shield, will leave Perth on Monday with a “black box detector” supplied by the U.S. Navy. The Towered Pinger Locator 24 is towed behind the ship and carries a listening device that should be able to detect the flight data recorder from the plane up to 20,000 feet below the ocean surface.
The search team is in a race against time because the recorder battery lasts only 30 to 45 days. The odds are stacked against finding it in time without a trail of debris to guide them. Investigators are merely surmising that the flight crashed into the Indian Ocean, based on an analysis of the flight’s path from engine data transmitted via satellite.
The most famous precedent is the case of Air France Flight 447, which crashed over the Atlantic on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009.
It took two years to find the body of the aircraft and the recorder, even though pieces of debris were found within five days.
The south Indian Ocean is one of the most remote places on the planet, far from any islands, shipping lanes or flight paths. But the area accumulates surprisingly large amounts of garbage, trapped in the slowly rotating currents.
The lack of confirmed debris has prevented families from achieving any kind of closure over the deaths of their relatives.