Flight MH370: Malaysia receives new images

This graphic provided by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), shows the approximate position of the objects seen floating in a Chinese satellite image. Photo / AP
This graphic provided by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), shows the approximate position of the objects seen floating in a Chinese satellite image. Photo / AP

Malaysia says it has received new satellite images from France showing floating objects in the main search area for a missing Malaysian jet in the Indian Ocean.

The images include "potential objects in the vicinity of the southern corridor", the Transport Ministry said in a statement on Sunday evening local time.

An RNZAF Orion based near Perth in Western Australia is in the air again tonight searching in the Southern Indian Ocean for evidence of the fate of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

The aircraft returned to base this morning around 1.30pm (NZT) after 11 hours in the air, bringing its total flying hours in the search operation to 84 over the past 14 days.

Air Commodore Mike Yardley, Air Component Commander at Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand, says the Orion crew searched the entire area allocated to them.

They also covered another smaller area nearby, where they dropped a GPS marker buoy to measure the drift rate in the area.

Air Commodore Yardley said all they saw was seaweed.

They took off again this evening at 6.00pm (NZT) for another 11-hour sortie.

The crew will have a rest day tomorrow and are expected to fly again on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The desolate area in the Indian Ocean is about 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth, Australia, where three days of searching for similar images from another satellite that emerged earlier in the week have produced no results.

China satellite finds object near search area:

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordination the operation from the country's western coast, said it refined the search based on the latest clue from the Chinese satellite showing an object that appeared to be 22 metres by 13 metres.

It said that the object's position also fell within Saturday's search area but it had not been sighted.

Sunday's search involving eight aircraft has been split into two areas within the same proximity covering 59,000 square kilometres. These areas have been determined by drift modelling, the AMSA said.

Despite the frustrating lack of answers, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was upbeat.

"Obviously we have now had a number of very credible leads and there is increasing hope - no more than hope - that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen to this ill-fated aircraft," Abbott told reporters in Papua New Guinea.

Malaysian defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein put a message on his Twitter account Sunday asking those in churches around the country to offer a "prayer please" for the passengers and crew on Fight 370.

More than 300 Malaysian cycling enthusiasts rode their bikes to the Kuala Lumpur airport to remember the people onboard the jet. The cyclists decorated the bikes with small Malaysian flags and stickers that read "Pray for MH370."

Six planes left a base near Perth on the four-hour journey to the search region, the safety authority said. Two more will fly out later. The HMAS Success, an Australian navy supply ship, is also taking part.

A cold front was forecast to move through the region later Sunday, which could bring clouds and wind, further hampering efforts to locate the plane.

Read more:
Flight MH370: New clues in debris find
Flight MH370: Ocean keeps its secrets
Flight 370: 'We will find it'

The latest satellite image is another clue in the baffling search for Flight 370, which dropped off air traffic control screens March 8 over the Gulf of Thailand with 239 people on board.

"China hopes that these data will be helpful for searching and rescuing efforts," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement.

The missing plane, which had been bound for Beijing, carried 153 Chinese passengers.

After about a week of confusion, Malaysian authorities said pings sent by the Boeing 777-200 for several hours after it disappeared indicated that the plane ended up in one of two huge arcs: a northern corridor stretching from Malaysia to Central Asia, or a southern corridor that stretches toward Antarctica.

The discovery of the initial two objects by a satellite led several countries to send planes and ships to a stretch of the ocean southwest of Australia. But three days of searching have produced no confirmed signs of the plane.

One of the objects spotted in the earlier satellite imagery was described as 24 metres in length and the other was 5 metres.

In a statement on its website announcing China's find, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National defence did not explain why it took four days to release the information. But there was a similar delay in the release of the initial satellite images because experts needed time to examine them.

Two military planes from China have arrived in Perth, and the AMSA said they would join the search on Monday. They join Australian, New Zealand and US aircraft. Japanese planes are also expected soon.

Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said the currents in the area typically move at about one meter (yard) per second but can sometimes move faster.

Based on the typical speed, a current could theoretically move a floating object about 173 kilometres in two days.

Watch: NZ helps search for missing flight

But even if both satellites detected the same object, it may be unrelated to the plane. One possibility is that it could have fallen off a cargo vessel.

Because the search area is a four-hour flight from land, some of the planes can search for about only two hours before they must fly back. Others may be able to stay for up to five hours before heading back to the base.

The area where the objects were first identified by the Australian authorities is marked by strong currents and rough seas, and the ocean depth varies between 1150 metres and 7000 metres.

In addition, Hishammuddin said a low-level warning had been declared for Tropical Cyclone Gillian, although that was north of Australia and closer to Indonesia.

Malaysian authorities have not ruled out any possible explanation for what happened to the jet, but have said the evidence so far suggests it was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca, with its communications systems disabled. They are unsure what happened next.

Police are considering the possibilities of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or anyone else on board.

Malaysia has also asked the US for undersea surveillance equipment to help in the search.

No sign of debris

Earlier, a civil aircraft reported seeing a number of small objects in the search area, including a wooden pallet, but a New Zealand military plane diverted to the location found only clumps of seaweed.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in a statement today that searchers would keep trying to determine whether the objects are related to the lost plane.

"Yesterday one of our civilian search aircraft got visuals of a number of objects in a fairly small area in the overall Australian search zone,'' Mr Abbott told reporters.

A wooden pallet was among the items, he said.

"Obviously before we can be too specific about what it might be, we need to recover this material. It's still too early to be definite,'' he said.

MH370, carrying 239 people including six Australians, dropped off civilian radar on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Two weeks later Malaysian investigators still believe it was "deliberately diverted'' by someone on board.

Mr Abbott said four more aircraft - two Chinese and two Japanese planes - will join the Indian Ocean search on Sunday.

Coordinating the hunt in the vast southern Indian Ocean, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said overnight "further attempts will be made to establish whether the objects sighted are related to MH370,'' on Sunday.

A grainy March 18 photo released by China's State Administration of Science Technology and Industry showed an object measuring 22.5 metres by 13 metres (74 by 43 feet) in the southern Indian Ocean.

The location was just 120 kilometres (75 miles) distant from where March 16 satellite images - released by Australia on Thursday - had detected two pieces of possible wreckage in the remote ocean about 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth.

"AMSA has plotted the position and it falls within Saturday's search area,'' the statement said.

"The object was not sighted on Saturday. AMSA will take this information into account in tomorrow's search plans.

The Royal Australian Navy's HMAS Success arrived late Saturday in the search area where two merchant ships were also taking part in the effort that turned up sightings of other objects during good weather conditions on Saturday.

"A civil aircraft... reported sighting a number of small objects with the naked eye, including a wooden pallet, within a radius of five kilometres,'' AMSA said.

"A Royal New Zealand Air Force P3 Orion aircraft with specialist electro-optic observation equipment was diverted to the location, arriving after the first aircraft left but only reported sighting clumps of seaweed.''

The Orion dropped a marker buoy to track the movement of the material and a merchant ship in the 36,000-square-kilometre area was tasked with relocating and seeking to identify the material.

Chinese and British naval ships are also steaming to join the search and the new image offered welcome support for the decision to deploy so many resources without confirmation that the objects are pieces of wreckage.

Photo gallery: The faces of Flight 370:

Australian media have reported that two Chinese aircraft and a Japanese plane were also due to take part in the coming days.

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss vowed Saturday there would be no let up in the search.

The operation has seen already 15 sorties flown and more than 150 hours of air time logged, AMSA said.

Six planes, including four Orion anti-submarine aircraft packed with state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, scoured the area for a third straight day Saturday.

MH370, carrying 239 people, dropped off civilian radar on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and two weeks later Malaysian investigators still believe it was "deliberately diverted'' by someone on board.

- Newstalk ZB / AAP / AP

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