Australian ship heading towards possible debris from Malaysia plane
An Australian navy ship was close to finding possible debris from a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner today as a mounting number of sightings of floating objects raised hopes wreckage of the plane may soon be found.
The HMAS Success should reach two objects spotted by Australian military aircraft by tomorrow morning at the latest, Malaysia's government said, offering the first chance of picking up suspected debris from the plane.
So far, ships in the international search effort have been unable to locate several "suspicious" objects spotted by satellites in grainy images or by fast-flying aircraft over a vast search area in the remote southern Indian Ocean.
"HMAS Success is on scene and is attempting to locate and recover these objects," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who called his Malaysia counterpart Najib Razak to inform him of the sighting, said in a statement to parliament.
The objects, described as a "grey or green circular object" and an "orange rectangular object", were spotted about 2,500 km west of Perth this afternoon, said Abbott, adding that three planes were also en route to the area.
Neither Malaysia nor Australia gave details on the objects' size.
"We're not sure if Success will be able to find them tonight," John Young, general manager of the emergency response division of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, said in a video statement. "She may need the assistance of another serch aircraft on the scene
tomorrow to do that."
Flight MH370 vanished from civilian radar screens less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing with 239 people on board on March 8. No confirmed sighting of the plane has been made since and there is no clue what went wrong.
Attention and resources in the search for the Boeing 777 have shifted from an initial focus north of the Equator to an increasingly narrowed stretch of rough sea in the southern Indian Ocean, thousands of miles from the original flight path.
Earlier on Tuesday, Xinhua news agency said a Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft spotted two "relatively big" floating objects and several smaller white ones dispersed over several kilometres.
Beijing responded cautiously to the find. "At present, we cannot yet confirm that the floating objects are connected with the missing plane," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news briefing in Beijing.
Australia said that a US Navy plane searching the area today had been unable to locate the objects.
China has diverted its icebreaker Xuelong, or Snow Dragon, toward the location where the debris was spotted. A flotilla of other Chinese ships are also steadily making their way south. The ships will start to arrive in the area tomorrow.
Over 150 of the passengers on board the missing plane were Chinese.
The latest sighting followed reports by an Australian crew over the weekend of a floating wooden pallet and strapping belts in an area of the icy southern Indian Ocean that was identified after satellites recorded images of potential debris.
In a further sign the search may be bearing fruit, the US Navy is flying in its high-tech black box detector to the area.
The so-called black boxes - the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder - record what happens on board planes in flight. At crash sites, finding the black boxes soon is crucial because the locator beacons they carry fade out after 30 days.
"If debris is found we will be able to respond as quickly as possible since the battery life of the black box's pinger is limited," Commander Chris Budde, US Seventh Fleet Operations Officer, said in an emailed statement.
Budde stressed that bringing in the black box detector, which is towed behind a vessel at slow speeds and can pick up "pings" from a black box to a maximum depth of 20,000 feet, was a precautionary measure.
The Chinese aircraft that spotted the objects was one of two IL-76s searching today. Another eight aircraft, from Australia, the United States and Japan, were scheduled to make flights throughout the day to the search site, some 2,500 km (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth.