There were possible fresh clues to the whereabouts of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 late last night, with revelations China has new satellite images of debris in the southern Indian Ocean, near where searches have been concentrated.
The Malaysian Transport Minister made the announcement at his daily press conference in Kuala Lumpur around 11pm last night.
"The news that I just received is that the Chinese ambassador received satellite images of floating objects in the southern corridor and they will be sending ships to verify," said Hishammuddin Hussein.
It is not known how many objects there might be. One measured 22m by 30m. He gave no more information, but said Chinese authorities would be making an official announcement later. Chinese state media reported that the images were taken at lunchtime on March 18 and covered a site 120km west of where Australian satellite pictures sighted apparent debris.
Meanwhile, the search for the plane, which left Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing on March 8, will continue indefinitely in the ocean off West Australia, but authorities warn the effort could be fruitless.
Six search planes, including New Zealand and Australian P3 Orions, have completed two full days of searching about 2500km off the coast of Perth for debris that could be connected to the missing Boeing 777.
Among the missing passengers are New Zealanders, Perth-based Paul Weeks, 38, and Ximin Wang, understood to be a 50-year-old bus driver from Auckland.
Wang's family have asked for privacy and declined to comment since news of the missing airliner broke.
At least 500,000sq km has been covered, criss-crossing the search area for two hours at a time each day.
Two Chinese aircraft were expected in Perth last night, and two Japanese planes will arrive today. A small flotilla of ships from China is still several days away. The Malaysian plane passengers included 154 Chinese.
"What they are doing is undertaking an enormous search," said Australian Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss. "If there's something to be found I am confident that this search effort will locate it. We will take it one day at a time. We have no contingency plan to end the search any time soon. We will keep going while there is hope."
None of the debris spotted by satellites six days ago had been located by last night.
Truss visited the Royal Australian Air Force Base Pearce at Bullsbrook, about 35km north of Perth, yesterday. Air Commodore Mike Yardley, Air Component Commander at Headquarters Joint Forces New Zealand, said the Kiwi Orion had logged 84 flying hours over the past 14 days, covering a search area about one and half times the size of New Zealand. The aircraft was in the air for 10 hours yesterday.
"Once on station they'll drop down to 500ft above the water and look for liferafts or aircraft debris. Weather conditions in the area are expected to be poor again, with light rain and sea fog forecast, but our aircraft is ideally suited to the task, using advanced radar, electro-optics and visual inspection by the crew.
"Thanks to a recent upgrade, this aircraft is one of the most sophisticated in the world for this kind of work," Yardley said.
Truss said there was hope the debris could lead to answers about what happened to MH370 but there were other possible explanations.
"Shipping containers do fall off ... there are a number of potential explanations as to what these two items actually are. Even though this is not a definite lead, it is probably more solid than any other leads around the world.
"We will continue searching until we're absolutely satisfied that further searches would be futile. At this stage we're planning to continue indefinitely.
"We recognise there will be a time at some stage ... where a decision will have to be made - but we're not thinking about that."