As the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 expanded on Wednesday with the arrival of a second search ship, residents of Indonesia have been placed “on alert” to spot wreckage or debris from the missing plane that could wash up on the shores of the archipelago nation of more than 250 million people — the world’s fourth-most populous country.
Indonesia stretches across nearly 18,000 islands, almost 1,000 of which are populated. The islands reach from northwest of Australia almost to that country’s northeast corner. In other words, the debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, if any actually exists, could turn up in any one of thousands of locations.
But the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is the agency now in charge of the massive and painstaking search for Flight 370 along the largely unexplored floor of the remote Indian Ocean, said the the westernmost Indonesian islands are the most likely areas where Flight 370 debris could wash up.
The ATSB said in a new update on the search on Wednesday that it has received numerous reports from members of the public in Australia, describing “material washed up on the Australian coastline that they think may be wreckage or debris from MH370.”
But the ATSB says that none of those reports have panned out and wreckage is more likely to have drifted north and west of Australia, according to the data now being used by investigators.
“Drift modeling undertaken by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority has suggested that if there were any floating debris, it is far more likely to have travelled west, away from the coastline of Australia,” the ATSB said in its latest update on the Malaysia Airlines search. “Some materials may have drifted to the coastline of Indonesia and an alert has been issued in that country requesting that the authorities be alerted to any possible debris from the aircraft.”
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 suddenly vanished during a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8. No sign of the plane or any of its 239 passengers and crew has been seen or heard from since that date. Investigators believe the the plane mysteriously took a hard westward turn and flew for about seven hours until crashing into the remote Indian Ocean when it ran out of fuel.
That conclusion was based largely on satellite data showing that, even with all of the rest of its communications systems shut down, the Malaysia Airlines plane continued to send “ping” signals to a satellite operated by the British firm Inmarsat.
But last week, Inmarsat analysts released a report saying that their data was subject to errors and that “significant uncertainty” remained as to the plane’s final resting place.
That uncertainty did not deter Malaysia’s Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein from offering a highly confident prediction about the search for Flight MH370 at a press briefing Wednesday.
“I am 99.9 percent optimistic in locating the missing aircraft,” Hussein said. “But the ocean is huge. And it all depends on various factors including the condition of the sea.”
The Dutch search vessel Discovery was scheduled to join the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 on Wednesday, about 1,100 miles off the Australian coast.