No sign of debris, Australia now switches to visual search

Australia today said that radars had failed to detect any sign of the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner, and it was switching to skilled observers to spot any debris in the remote southern Indian Ocean, AFP reported.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (ASMA) is coordinating the hunt for the Boeing 777 aircraft in between the mainland and Antarctica, in an area 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth.

"Noting that we got no radar detection yesterday, we have replanned the search to be visual," the head of ASMA's emergency response division John Young said.

"So the aircraft are flying relatively low, highly trained and skilled observers looking out of the aircraft windows, and looking to see objects."

That meant the search aircraft would have to fly more closely together, Young said, adding, "we will need more aircraft for a search of that type".

Five planes were in the air Friday - three Australian RAAF P3 Orions, one long-range corporate jet and a United States Navy P8 Poseidon - as part of a global effort to find the Boeing 777 which vanished on March 8.

Young said one aircraft was on its way back, two were in the search area, and two more were on their way.

He said the weather was suitable for searching, but officials have so far drawn a blank in finding anything from the plane which went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 onboard.

"We have no sighting yet," Young said.

Australia is tasked with scouring the massive southern sector of the possible flight path of the plane which appears to have been deliberately diverted mid-flight.

Authorities have gradually reduced the search area off Australia, with satellite imagery released Thursday apparently showing two objects which might be from the plane.

"Although this search area is much smaller than we started with, it nonetheless is a big area when you are looking out the window and trying to see something by eye," Young said.

"So we may have to do this a few times to be confident about the coverage of that search area."

Young said authorities planned a similar search for Saturday, only moving the target area to take into account the movement of any objects due to sea currents.

"These satellite images provide us with a good lead. It also correlates with the work that was done by the US National Transportation Safety Board (on the plane's flight path) and that gives a great degree of confidence in what it is that we're doing," he said.

"We remain focused on finding people alive, if they are to be found, and that's tomorrow's game." – March 21, 2014.