Australians, Chinese spot objects in Indian Ocean

By Todd Pitman

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 24 2014 8:36 a.m. MDT

Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein answers queries from a journalist during a press conference for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at Putra World Trade Center (PWTC) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Monday, March 24, 2014. Chinese and Australian planes on Monday spotted several objects in an area identified by multiple satellite images as containing possible debris from the missing Malaysian airliner, boosting hopes the frustrating search in the southern Indian Ocean could turn up more clues to the jet's fate.

Joshua Paul, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

PERTH, Australia — Ships rushed to the location of floating objects spotted Monday by Australian and Chinese planes in the southern Indian Ocean close to where multiple satellites have detected possible remains of the lost Malaysian airliner.

One ship was carrying equipment to detect the plane's vital black box, but it remained uncertain whether the vessels were approaching a successful end to the search or another frustrating dead end.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott called his Malaysian counterpart, Najib Razak, and informed him about objects that had been found in the search, Malaysian national news agency Bernama reported. Najib was scheduled to hold a news conference late Monday.

Earlier, Abbott said in Canberra that the crew on board an Australian P3 Orion had located two objects in the search zone — the first grey or green and circular, the second orange and rectangular. The crew was able to photograph the objects, but it was unclear if they were part of an aircraft.

An Australian navy supply ship, the HMAS Success, headed into the area to get a closer look but weather conditions and visibility were poor, according to John Young, manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's emergency response division.

"You may find that we will be doing this for maybe three or four more days before we are confident that we've either found all the objects there, or if they are there, we simply cannot find them," Young said.

Data marker buoys dropped into the search zone by aircraft showed currents were moving in different directions, which Young said "is an indication of water that's not going anywhere in particular, which is better for searching — it means we don't have to move the search area a lot."

Separately, the crew aboard one of two Chinese IL-76 aircraft combing the search zone observed two large objects and several smaller ones spread across several square kilometers (miles), Xinhua News Agency reported. At least one of the items — a white, square object — was captured on a camera aboard the plane, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

"We are still racing against time," Hong said at a ministry briefing. "As long as there is a glimmer of hope, our search efforts will carry on."

China has redirected the icebreaker Snow Dragon toward the latest find, and that ship was due to arrive early Tuesday. Six other Chinese ships have been directed toward the search zone, about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, along with 20 fishing vessels that have been asked to help, Hong said.

Relatives of passengers aboard the missing Boeing 777-200 were closely following news reports of the latest sightings, desperate for any word on the fate of loved ones.

"We're eager to learn more about this," said Wang Zhen, who is staying at a hotel near Beijing. His father and mother, Wang Linshi and Xiong Yunming, were both aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 as part of a group of Chinese artists touring Malaysia.

Satellite images and data released by Australia, China and France in recent days have identified possible debris in the area that may be linked to the disappearance of the plane on March 8 with 239 people on board — two-thirds of them Chinese.

The ocean depth in the search area ranges between 1,150 meters (3,770 feet) and 7,000 meters (23,000 feet), and the U.S. Pacific Command said it was sending a black box locator in case a debris field is located.

The Towed Pinger Locator, which is pulled behind a vessel at slow speeds, has highly sensitive listening capability so that if the wreck site is located, it can hear the black box "pinger" down to a depth of about 20,000 feet (6,100 meters), Cmdr. Chris Budde, a U.S. 7th Fleet operations officer, said in a statement.

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