China sends ship to MH370 search area after spotting two large "suspicious objects" and "many" smaller white objects
9:18AM GMT 24 Mar 2014
A Chinese ship has been sent to an area in the south Indian Ocean where a Chinese search team spotted “suspicious objects” believed to be debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight.
As new reports indicated the plane flew low before disappearing, crew aboard a Chinese IL-76 plane saw “two relatively big floating objects” and “many” smaller white objects “within a radius of several kilometres”, according to a reporter from Xinhua, China’s official news agency, who was on board. The Chinese icebreaker Xuelong is now headed to the area.
The remote nature of the area where the objects were seen meant the Chinese plane had been forced to return to base but its pilots asked Australian authorities to dispatch other planes to the area of interest “for further examination”.
"The reported objects area within today’s (Monday's) search area and attempts will be made to relocate them," the Australian Maritime safety Authority said in a statement.
The Chinese “Ilyushin” plane is one of two such planes now operating out of Australia’s Base Pearce near Perth. It had been searching an area around 1,500 miles southwest of Perth and flying at a height of just over 1,000 feet when it made the sightings.
A Senior Colonel from the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) speaks to the media at RAAF Base Pearce
Those planes were among 10 that were dispatched to two vast search areas on Monday with a total area of more than more than 26,000 square miles. The zone was expanded northwards after a French satellite detected possible debris in an area north of the sites where American and Chinese satellites sighted large floating objects.
“We are just clutching at whatever little piece of information comes along to try and find a place where we might be able to concentrate the efforts," said Warren Truss, Australia’s deputy prime minister.
The United States navy says it is sending a Towed Ping Locator – a high-tech black box detector - closer to the search area.
"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," said commander Chris Budde, from the US Seventh Fleet.
The weather in the area has been deteriorating, with low clouds reducing visibility. But a tropical cyclone north of the area is not expected to hamper the search.
Investigators are still at a loss to explain the disappearance of the Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers more than two weeks ago during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Analysts now believe the plane flew as low as 12,000 feet before it disappeared from radar above the South China Sea, according to a report by CNN. Authorities have also confirmed the plane’s last transmitted destination was Beijing, which suggests that the plane’s flight path was not deliberately reprogrammed from within the cockpit.