RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And I'm David Greene. There is a new lead this morning in the search for that Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared mysteriously almost two weeks ago. According to Australian officials, satellite images showed two pieces of debris in a remote area of the South Indian Ocean. Officials are being very cautious, saying the debris may or may not be pieces of that jet. NPR's Frank Langfitt has been following every turn in this story and he's on the line from Shanghai. Frank, good morning.
FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So what exactly are the Australians seeing in these satellite images and where is it exactly?
LANGFITT: Well, one thing they're focusing on, there's a piece, it's rectangular, it's nearly 80 feet long. They released some satellite images. They're grainy black and white so you really can't tell quite what it is. This was picked up by commercial satellites. Now, it's over 1,500 miles southwest of Perth and they sent - the Australians, New Zealands and U.S. have sent search planes and they're searching an area - it sounds huge - it's 190,000 square miles.
LANGFITT: There are also a number of merchant ships that have been going through the area and the idea is to try to see something, maybe get some photographs, but so far they haven't been able to find anything.
GREENE: Well, if they're telling ships to, you know, look at this area, if they're sending aircraft from different countries, I mean they have to think there's a chance here that this could be pieces of that plane, but how much confidence do they have at this moment?
LANGFITT: Well, you know, your point is very well taken. There have been so many twists and turns in this story. A lot of misinformation out there. So the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, they're coordinating this search, and what they've said is they really don't know but this is the best lead they've seen. It's also important to remember that even though this is a remote part of the Indian Ocean, there is debris out there.
For instance, a shipping container can fall off a freighter. So there is stuff out there and they're used to seeing things. But what I think intrigues them is that this is south of a search area that was recently outlined by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, and the NTSB was working off that satellite data we've been talking about, looking at the plane speed, fuel capacity.
And also figuring that if the plane went down that southern corridor, which has been a focus in recent days, and figuring out where it might have run out of fuel, it might have gone down roughly in this area.
GREENE: OK. So it's not just the fact that they're picking this up on satellite, it's based on some other information they've had so far.
LANGFITT: Absolutely. This actually conforms, roughly, with the path that - the southern path that people think the plane might have taken.
GREENE: So what happens now in the larger search for this plane?
LANGFITT: Well, right now it's dark here and so the aircraft have stopped looking. But they'll certainly go out tomorrow and there's this C130 Hercules that has been told to go drop buoys in the area. And the idea is to do what they call drift modeling. And so in case they continue to have trouble finding these pieces of debris, they can try to figure out where they might've drifted based on the currents and the wind.
GREENE: And Frank, you know, I hesitate to speculate at all because they're being so cautious about this, but if this turns out to be debris from that plane, how difficult would it then be to find the all-important voice data recorder, the black box?
LANGFITT: I don't think they think it would be easy at all. I was talking to a professor today who studies fluid dynamics in Australia and he said you'd have to use a model to try to predict the movement based on water currents and wind speeds to try to figure out roughly where the plane went down. Of course this is a very remote part of the ocean. There are strong winds and currents out there and it could be a very large area. He said just as an example it might be a circle with a 60 mile diameter. The other thing to keep in mind is this part of the Indian Ocean is over 9,000 feet deep, so even once you find the area, it could take a lot of time.
GREENE: NPR's Frank Langfitt on the line from Shanghai. Frank, thank you.
LANGFITT: Very welcome, David.
GREENE: Australian officials have confirmed that the search has been suspended until sun-up, which is several hours from now. Stay tuned to NPR. We'll be updating this story on the air and online throughout the day.
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