Flight MH370: Beach debris could be lead to missing airliner

ATSB chief commissioner Martin Dolan

The search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has sparked back into life with the discovery of debris on a beach near Augusta, Western Australia.

Pictures of the material, described as looking like sheet metal with distinct rivets, have been passed to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) for further analysis.

The debris, found by a member of the public walking on the beach, is a rare visual lead and comes at a point when, experts say, there is a good chance material from a plane crash in the Indian Ocean would start washing up.

Officials have nonetheless advised caution, with ATSB chief commissioner Martin Dolan telling reporters “the more we look at it [the debris], the less excited we get.”

He says a full analysis could take a number of days but adds: “It's sufficiently interesting for us to take a look at the photographs. We take all leads seriously.”

Even if investigators fail to link the latest piece of debris to the jet that vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board, the Western Australia Emergency Services Minister Joe Francis says there is a decent chance material on the plane will make its way to land at some point.

“It wouldn't surprise me if sooner or later ... if there was debris floating, it would end up on the West Australian coast,” he says.

“Weather systems in the southern hemisphere predominantly move in a clockwise direction, and this time of the year the Leeuwin Current is pretty much at its strongest.

“Anything in that area over 50 days travelling at two knots, say 4km an hour, sooner or later is likely to have been caught up in it [the current].”

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says it will not be the end of the underwater search if the submersible Bluefin 21 fails to find any clue in the area it is scanning.

It has scanned more than 80% of the 310sq km seabed search zone, creating a three-dimensional sonar map of the ocean floor. Nothing of interest has been found.

When that search is complete, more powerful sonar equipment is expected to be brought in to search further and deeper than the capability of Bluefin 21.

At the same time, search coordinators say visual searches will continue in a bid to locate debris in a wider area around 1600km northwest of Perth.

Though a tropical cyclone suspended the air search for a second day, officials say 12 ships are still searching a stretch of around 38,000sq km of sea.

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