Chinese plane spots objects in Indian Ocean
By ROB GRIFFITH and SCOTT McDONALD (AP)
March 24, 2014, 2:35 pm TWN
PERTH, Australia (AP) — A Chinese plane on Monday spotted two white, square-shaped objects in an area identified by satellite imagery as containing possible debris from the missing Malaysian airliner, while the United States separately prepared to send a specialized device that can locate black boxes.
The crew aboard an IL-76 plane sighted the object in the southern Indian Ocean and reported the coordinates to the Australian command center, which is coordinating the multinational search, as well as the Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon, which is en route to the area, China's Xinhua News Agency reported.
The spotters saw two larger floating objects and some smaller, white debris scattered over several square kilometers (miles), the report said. It gave no other details.
Satellite images released by Australia and China had earlier identified possible debris in the area that may be linked to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 on March 8 with 239 people aboard.
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. Seventh Fleet operations officer, said in a statement.
"This movement is simply a prudent effort to preposition equipment and trained personnel closer to the search area so that 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," Budde said.
There was no sign the move was linked to any breakthrough in the mystery of the plane, but rather as a preparation.
The Chinese plane was one of two Ilyushins that joined the search Monday from Perth, increasing the number of aircraft to 10 from eight a day earlier.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the objects spotted Monday were "within today's search area and attempts will be made to relocate them."
Bad weather was threatening the search efforts in the area, about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth. Australia's Bureau of Meteorology reported increased winds, low cloud and a reduction in visibility on Monday. On Tuesday, a cold front was expected to move through the search area from the west, bringing showers, more low cloud and less visibility. Tropical Cyclone Gillian, which is further to the north, will not impact the area.
Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss said "nothing of note" was found Sunday, which he described as a "fruitless day."
"It's going to be a challenge, but we'll stick at it," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "We're just, I guess, clutching at whatever little piece of information comes along to try and find a place where we might be able to concentrate the efforts."
The search was given added momentum when a French satellite detected potential debris on Sunday, after Australia and China earlier released satellite images identifying suspect objects.
Australian authorities had sent planes and a ship to try to locate a wooden pallet that was spotted on Saturday from a search plane, but the spotters were unable to take photos of it.
Wooden pallets are most commonly used by ships but are also used airplane cargo holds, and an official with Malaysia Airlines said Sunday night that the flight was, in fact, carrying wooden pallets. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with company policy.