Possible MH370 debris found in SW (The West)
Possible MH370 debris found in SW (The West)

UPDATE: Authorities are investigating if apparent aircraft wreckage that washed up at a beach in WA's South West is from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is investigating a piece of debris picked up 10km east of Augusta this afternoon.

An ATSB spokesman confirmed to thewest.com.au that the piece of debris was interesting and the bureau was passing on photographs to Malaysian authorities and Boeing for analysis.

ATSB chief commissioner Martin Dolan said the object appeared to be sheet metal with rivets, CNN reported.

"It's sufficiently interesting for us to take a look at the photographs," he said.

Mr Dolan remained cautious about the discovery.

"The more we look at it, the less excited we get," he said.

An Australian Defence Force source told told CNN that the object had rivets on one side, and what appeared to be a fiberglass coating.

"When asked about the shape and scale of the object, the source described it as 'kind of rectangular', but torn and misshapen," CNN reported.

"The source said it was too difficult to estimate the size because they had only seen one photo with no clear scale.

The debris was picked up and handed in at Busselton police station. It is believed that a local man found the possible plane wreckage.

Police officers photographed it and sent the images to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, who forwarded them to ATSB.

The debris is still at Busselton police station, but will be handed over to AMSA tonight.

"The seized material will remain in our possession until the ATSB provide further direction," WA Police spokesman Samuel Dinnison said this evening.

The ATSB spokesman would neither confirm nor deny that the debris was from MH370, which disappeared nearly seven weeks ago carrying 239 passengers and crew.

Malaysia is running the investigation into the disappearance, but search efforts are being led by the Australian Federal Government’s Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre, based at the RAAF Pearce Air Base.

JACC confirmed this evening that ATSB was examining photographs of the material that washed ashore.

"WA Police have attended a report of material washed ashore 10 kilometres east of Augusta and have secured the material," JACC said.

"The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is examining the photographs of the material to determine whether further physical analysis is required and if there is any relevance to the search of missing flight MH370.

"The ATSB has also provided the photographs to the Malaysian investigation team."

The search for the missing Boeing 777 in the Indian Ocean south-west of WA has become a multinational effort, with more than 10 countries including Australia, Malaysia, China, Japan, Indonesia and the United States contributing search teams, aircraft and ships.

MH370 lost contact with ground controllers somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam after leaving Kuala Lumpur early on Saturday, March 8, during a flight to Beijing.

The plane’s disappearance – one of aviation’s biggest mysteries – has gripped the world.

It is not yet known how the plane disappeared during a routine flight.

The plane’s black boxes, which could shed some light on the disappearance, are yet to be found.

JACC said today's planned air-search activities were suspended because of poor weather conditions in the search area.

"Three aircraft had already departed for today's search area prior to the suspension taking effect. They have been recalled," JACC said.

"Current weather conditions are resulting in heavy seas and poor visibility and are making air-search activities ineffective and potentially hazardous.

"The 12 ships involved in today's search will continue with their planned activities."

Augusta-Margaret River Sea Rescue commander Paul Higginson said terrain where the debris washed up was rough.

"It’s quite an isolated area, apart from a handful of people who own a bit of farmland," Mr Higginson said.

Strong ocean currents meant debris washed up on local beaches regularly.

"We were called out to deal with what was supposedly a washed-up bomb in the same area last year," he said.

While unsure whether any further investigation was required, he said local volunteers were prepared to help.

Malaysian authorities said a report on the items found near Augusta had been received, but there had been no verification of whether they were part of the missing flight.

Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said insights from Jean Paul Troadec, a key expert in the two-year search for wreckage from the 2009 Air France crash, and experience from the 1997 Silk Air crash, would be considered in determining the approach to the next phase of the search.

“When we have to regroup and restrategise, it’s a matter of looking at all the data, whether it is satellite, whether it is radar, and that is very important as we chart our next course,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.

“Those are the sort of things we will be looking at in identifying the possibility of other locations, but that will be part and parcel of the whole work in progress.”

The search for the plane continues in a vast area of the Indian Ocean north-west of Perth and authorities have previously said it’s more likely the prevailing currents would take debris west towards Africa rather than east to the Australian coast.

Earlier on Wednesday, Defence Minister David Johnston said Australia was consulting with Malaysia, China and the United States on the next phase of the search.

The autonomous underwater vehicle Bluefin-21 has scoured more than 80 per cent of the search area, centred about 855km northwest of Perth, with no items of interest discovered to date.

The Bluefin-21 is focusing on a circular area with a radius of 10km.

If the device turned up nothing, the operation would turn to more advanced side-scan sonar technology, which would be able to go deeper than the Bluefin-21, Senator Johnston said.

The Bluefin-21 loses some scanning effectiveness in water depths greater than 4.5 kilometres, but has plunged almost 4.7km on a recent mission.

While the Bluefin-21 had less than one-fifth of the seabed search area to complete, Senator Johnston estimated its mission would take another two weeks.

There are suggestions more powerful towed side-scan sonar technology, similar to that which found the Titanic in 3.8km-deep waters in the Atlantic Ocean in 1985, could soon be deployed.

The same system was used to find HMAS Sydney in 2008, which was located north of the MH370 search area.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott insisted the search would continue while there was a reasonable hope of finding something.

“Australia will not rest until we have done everything we humanly can to get to the bottom of this mystery,” he told reporters.

The Bluefin-21 is focusing on a circular area with a radius of 10km where the second acoustic signal was picked up by a towed pinger locator on April 8. Acoustic signals were also picked up in the vicinity on April 5.

JACC said the area remained the best lead.

“It is important this lead is pursued to its completion so we can either confirm or discount the focused underwater area as the final resting place of MH370. This is clearly of great importance to the families of those on board,” JACC said.

The West Australian

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