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Australians have spotted and had experts analyze satellite images of two pieces of debris possibly from MH370, credible enough that it led the Australians to refocus their search on that area far west of Perth in the Southern Indian Ocean.

The longest piece of debit on the satellite image is 24 meters, 79 feet long, said John Young, of the Australia Maritime Safety Authority in a press conference shortly after midnight EDT in the US.

The first Australian search plane should be in the area now and three others are on the way to the scene, four hours by air from Perth and partly within the southern end of the Southern Indian Ocean search area where American officials expected the plane to be.

Young cautioned that the Australians have done searches like this before, and while they see this as a credible lead, it may not be the wreckage of the Malaysian Airlines flight. They've had leads like this before that did not pan out. (I listened to the press conference and took notes.)

From ABC Foreign Editor Jon Williams on Twitter around 1 a.m. EDT:

   

Jon Williams ‏@WilliamsJon 1h

Crew on @USNavy P-8 spotter tell @WrightUps "significant radar returns" coming from site where possible #MH370 objects spotted.

Which I believe means one of the US spy planes has found a lot of stuff, or some big stuff, in the area, but they haven't said what it is yet.

And now, the Navy says:

ABC News ‏@ABC 4m

UPDATE: US 7th Fleet spokesperson: Radar hits seen by US P-8 not believed linked to objects identified by Australians - @LMartinezABC
Expand

US planes are also headed to the area, and MSNBC is reporting that at least one US ship is there already. It's a plane used to search for submarines. Its radar is being used to search for debris in the water, and it can search day and night.

Pilots and other supposed experts on CNN and MSNBC are saying 79 feet would be a really big piece of the plane to be intact in the ocean, while others are saying, big plane, probably the tail section, the lightest part, bobbing in the ocean.  (Love all the conflicting info. to this story.)

From the press conference, Young said other satellites have been refocused to attempt to get better, high resolution images of the debris.

The first aircraft should be on the scene where the objects were spotted now, with three more on the way. It's a four-hour flight from Perth, leaving the planes 2 hours to search before they have to return to refuel, Young said. They've also sent a ship that could stay on scene.

The weather in the area is moderate, but with some poor visibility, he said. (Not sure how that can happen. Calm seas, but hazy?)

Even now with this refocusing, finding the objects will not be easy, he said.

I don't know anything about aviation except what I've read here recently, but in one of the first diaries here speculating about what happened and in another diary I posted the next day, the collective expertise of pilots who hang out here, when asked to make an educated guess about what happened first went to a fire that left everyone onboard dead, the plane flying itself, either by auto-pilot or doing what a 777 can do to keep itself in the air.

We kept getting confusing information from the Malaysians. I can't even remember how many times they told us one thing one day and walked it back the next. And there was wild speculation about terrorism, landing the plane somewhere and hiding it, etc. But the pilots kept saying fire or catastrophic event on-board.

So, hat off to the pilots. I think they're right.

Early on, it seemed impossible to land and hide a plane that big with any kind of stealth. It take a long runway. (And people would argue how long or how short a runway it's possible to land this plane on. 5,000 feet, minimum, if you had to in an emergency? Longer to be able to take off. And highly reinforced concrete, if you don't want the weight of the plane to sink into it.)

If it was taken for terrorism, it just doesn't make sense to fly it somewhere, land it, hide it for a while and use it later. Every second you had it made it more likely you'd get caught. If you take it for that, it seems logical you'd fly it straight into your target.

Terrorism and hijacking alone seem suspect in the post-911 world. Think about how hard passengers and the rest of the crew would fight to keep from being a weapon used to hurt even more people.

Pilot suicide, too, seems like it would be much simpler. Fly the plane into the ocean, not make all those turns and climbs and fly for hours.

So it looks like we're back to fire or maybe just smoke, overtaking the pilots, leaving them unconscious and then dead, doing what they could to fly the plane before they became unconscious. The plane is designed to do extraordinary things all by itself to stay in the air, even without the auto-pilot on.

Here from CNN:

    With the autopilot off, the airplane will adjust the pitch (the up or down movement of the nose of the plane) to maintain a speed set by the pilot. It will pitch up if it's going faster than the desired speed and pitch down if slower. This is called pitch trim. Anyone who has flown even a small aircraft will be familiar with this concept. Therefore, when disturbed, it will fly a series of pitch changes as it settles down on the trimmed airspeed.

    Pitch protections built into the system ensure that the airplane never goes too fast or too slow. Temporary input on the control wheel, or changes in the airplane's weight as it burns off fuel, temperature and other normal atmospheric changes along the course can initiate the altitude changes as the airplane continues to seek its trimmed speed.

****
I wanted to post tonight anyway to discuss an idea from The Daily Beast, a theory which people are already saying can't have happened the way that story says it did.

But I think the idea is sound: work backwards from what we know.

Anybody want to try that?

We know a ping to a satellite says the plane was still in the air at 8:11 a.m. (Actually, I don't even know if it says that or simply that the engines were still running. I've read some people saying it could simply mean the engines were still running and the plane on the ground. But for argument's sake, let's say, plane in the air at 8:11 a.m.

What does that tell us?

1. The plane has to be nearly out of fuel. It would have been loaded with fuel for a 6 hour flight with some reserve in case of flight delays or bad weather or any kind of situation that could mean it needed to fly longer. Everything I've read says to be in the air since 12:41 a.m., it would have to be near the end of its fuel range.

2. From what I've been reading on aviation boards and tons of news stories (yes, I'm obsessing) to get that kind of range, it would not have been flying at 5,000 feet or doing heavy climbs to 45,000 feet. Flying low burns more fuel. Flying high saves fuel, but if you're trying to fly a heavy plane, loaded with people and fuel, to or above the limits of the plane's reach, takes a lot of energy. So the plane was probably flying at a normal cruising altitude where if it was  a car, you'd say it was getting high miles per gallon, 25-30,000 feet

Also, the Malaysians once again walked back a key piece of the timeline: that the co-pilot said good night after the ACARS system was turned off, which was one of the key things that pointed toward hijacking or pilot suicide. That the co-pilot must have known something was going wrong when he calmly said good night. That he was covering up what was going on.

Malaysia now says, the ACARS system reported last at 1:07 a.m. The pilot said goodnight at 1:19 a.m., transponder went off at 1:21 a.m. and ACARS was due to report in again at 1:37 a.m. but didn't. So all they know is that it was turned off sometimes between 1:07 and 1:37 a.m. (Here's a Twitter graphic of what I believe is the most up-to-date timeline, unless someone walks back more stuff tomorrow.

So then you're back to what happened? There was an account by a Canadian pilot, Chris Goodfellow,an account by a Canadian pilot, Chris Goodfellow that's been reported more widely starting yesterday that argued older pilots were trained to always know where you are in the air and where the nearest airport is where you could land quickly if you had to.

He looked at the point where the plane first veered off-course and where it headed on that first turn, then said he went to Google Earth and looked for a runway. Here's what he came up with on a map. That first turn took him back toward Langkawi airport. It's a long runway, 13,000 feet, and the approach is over water. (I guess so if he didn't make it, he wouldn't run the risk of crashing and taking out people on land.)

Langkawi is also one of the airports on the pilot's simulator, where he practiced landings.

The theory was, a fire or smoke, first priority is to get the plane on the ground. Then pull circuits to try to find where the fire is and stop it. Pulling circuits could have cut the transponder and the ACARS system.

And something happened, and the pilot didn't have enough time to land the plane. He was overcome by smoke. Everyone was.

Reporters yesterday made a big thing about the waypoint being programmed into the plane ahead of time, but last night Rachel Maddow had a pilot on who said it was normal procedure for pilots to key in an alternate route, in case of bad weather or some other reason they didn't fly the expected route. It was basic safety, the guy said, and some airlines had procedures that say the pilots must key in an alternate route. So he didn't think we could read anything into the fact that a different waypoint was keyed into the plane's computer.

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