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Black box detector to join Malaysian jet search

By Rob Griffith

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, March 30 2014 9:54 a.m. MDT

Reporters try to interview a new batch of Chinese relatives of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 as they arrive at a hotel in Subang Jaya, Malaysia, Sunday March 30, 2014. A new batch of relatives from China arrived Sunday to seek answers from Malaysia's government as to what happened to their loved ones on board the missing Malaysian jetliner. The writing on shirts at center reads "Praying that MH370 returns home safely."

Aaron Favila, Associated Press

PERTH, Australia — A warship with an aircraft black box detector was set to depart Australia on Sunday to join the search for the missing Malaysian jetliner, a day after ships plucked objects from the Indian Ocean to determine whether they were related to the missing plane. None were confirmed to be from the plane, leaving searchers with no sign of the jet more than three weeks after it disappeared.

Twenty-nine Chinese family members, seeking answers from Malaysia's government as to what happened to their loved ones, arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, said Malaysia Airlines commercial director Hugh Dunleavy. Two-thirds of the 227 passengers aboard Flight 370 were Chinese, and their relatives have expressed deep frustration with Malaysian authorities since the plane went missing.

It will still take three-to-four days for the Australian navy ship, the Ocean Shield, to reach the search zone — an area roughly the size of Poland about 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles) to the west of Australia.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which oversees the search, said the ship will be equipped with a black box detector — the U.S. Navy's Towed Pinger Locator — and an unmanned underwater vehicle, as well as other acoustic detection equipment.

Ships from China and Australia on Saturday scooped up items described only as "objects from the ocean," but none were "confirmed to be related" to Flight 370, AMSA said.

In Sydney, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott described the latest search as positive because objects are now being examined.

"We haven't yet been able to ascertain what those objects are, but nevertheless, for the first time yesterday objects have been recovered from the ocean," he said.

A Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 plane spotted three floating objects, including two bearing colors of the missing jet, China's official Xinhua News Agency said, a day after several planes and ships combing the newly targeted area, which is closer to Australia than a previous search zone, saw several other objects.

The three objects spotted by the Chinese plane were white, red and orange, the Xinhua report said. The missing Boeing 777's exterior was red, white, blue and gray.

Investigators have been puzzled over what happened to Flight 370, which disappeared March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with speculation ranging from equipment failure and a botched hijacking to terrorism or an act by one of the pilots.

The latter was fueled by reports that the pilot's home flight simulator had files deleted from it, but Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said checks, including one by the FBI, had turned up no new information.

"What I know is that there is nothing sinister from the simulators, but of course that will have to be confirmed by the chief of police," Hishammuddin said.

Abbott also announced that former Australian defense chief, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, will lead a new center in Perth to coordinate the international search effort.

The Joint Agency Coordination Center will work with key Australian government, state and international members, and provide a single contact point for families, including travel assistance and visa services, accommodation, interpreter services and counselling.

Newly analyzed satellite data shifted the search zone on Friday, raising expectations that searchers may be closer to getting physical evidence that the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean.

That would narrow the hunt for the wreckage and the plane's black boxes, which should contain clues to what caused the plane to be so far off-course.

The change came after analysts determined that the Boeing 777 may have been traveling faster than earlier estimates and would therefore have run out of fuel sooner.

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