The deep ocean where planes and ships are seeking signs of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane is so treacherous any wreckage recovery would be extremely challenging.
Five aircraft and a Norwegian merchant ship were searching the Indian Ocean about 3000 kilometres southwest of Perth on Friday for two objects identified via satellite this week as possible parts of flight MH370.
A second merchant vessel was expected in the area later on Friday and Australian Navy ship HMAS Success could join the search on Saturday to see if the debris is from the Boeing 777 that disappeared on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has again cautioned it might not be from the plane.
But he said any information would be released as soon as possible for the sake of the families of the 239 people missing – six of them Australians but most Chinese.
Chinese President Xi Jinping “devastated”
Mr Abbott has spoken to China’s President Xi Jinping, who he said is “devastated” by the tragedy.
“This has been a gut wrenching business for so many people, not least those who are charged with keeping their citizens safe,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Papua New Guinea on Friday.
“We have an Australian naval ship which is steaming as fast as it can to the area.
“It is about the most inaccessible spot you could imagine on the face of the Earth but, if there is anything down there, we will find it.”
But if the floating objects are from the missing plane, it could have drifted more than 500 kilometres from the crash site.
University of Western Australia oceanographer Chari Pattiaratchi says the searchers face the world’s most treacherous seas, and a recovery operation would be extremely challenging.
“It is as hostile as it can get,” Prof Pattiaratchi told ABC radio.
The 23,000 square kilometre search area is in the body of water known as the Roaring Forties, where strong circumpolar westerly winds blow and waves of four metres to five metres are constant but can swell to more than 10 metres.
Depths of up to 5km
“Water depths are up to five kilometres deep, so even if you find something, it’s a big challenge to recover it.”
He said there were only five or so vessels in the world – remotely operated vehicles or submersibles usually tethered to a ship – that could reach such depths.
Meanwhile, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s John Young says the five aircraft searching the southern Indian Ocean on Friday were flying low in favourable weather with trained observers looking for sign since they did not detect anything with radar on Thursday.
“This is the only lead in the world right now – and there is a real prospect the aircraft was in this area, so we must take this search seriously.”
“Tomorrow’s plan is actually to do the same thing again,” he said in a video on AMSA’s website.
“We will move the search area to where the water has moved overnight.”
They will be also looking to see if they can get more satellite imagery to refine the search.
“But the plan is we want to find these objects because they are the best lead where we might find people to be rescued … we are still focused on that task,” he said.
More planes to join the search
Chinese and Japanese planes will join the search in the Indian Ocean for the missing Malaysian plane, based on Australian satellite imagery of potential wreckage.
Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss confirmed late on Friday that two Chinese aircraft were due to arrive in Perth on Saturday and two Japanese aircraft will join the search on Sunday.
Mr Truss, who will on Saturday visit the RAAF Pearce airbase where the search is being co-ordinated, said the worldwide effort to find the plane would widen over the weekend.
He voiced a warning that given the satellite images were now five days old, there was some possibility whatever had been there had sunk or moved.
However, he added: “This is the only lead in the world right now – and there is a real prospect the aircraft was in this area, so we must take this search seriously.”