Australia checking 2 objects in search for plane
By KRISTEN GELINEAU and SCOTT MCDONALD, AP
March 20, 2014, 2:15 pm TWN
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Four military search planes were dispatched Thursday to try to determine whether two large objects bobbing in a remote part of the Indian Ocean were part of a possible debris field of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight.
One of the objects spotted by satellite imagery had a dimension of 25 meters (82 feet) and the other one was smaller. There could be other objects in waters nearby in the area that's a four-hour flight from Australia's southwestern coast, said John Young, manager of Australian Maritime Safety Authority's emergency response division.
"This is a lead, it's probably the best lead we have right now," said Young, while cautioning that the objects could also be seaborne debris along a key shipping route where containers periodically fall off cargo vessels.
Young told a news conference in Canberra, Australia's capital, that planes had been sent to the area about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth to check on the objects. He said that satellite images "do not always turn out to be related to the search even if they look good, so we will hold our views on that until they are sighted close-up."
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had earlier told Parliament about the debris, and said Orion search aircraft were expected to arrive in the area Thursday afternoon.
Young said visibility was poor and may hamper efforts to find the objects. He said they "are relatively indistinct on the imagery ... but those who are experts indicate they are credible sightings. The indication to me is of objects that are a reasonable size and probably awash with water, moving up and down over the surface."
Military planes from Australia, the U.S. and New Zealand have been covering a search region over the southern Indian Ocean that was narrowed down from 600,000 square kilometers (232,000 square miles) to 305,000 square kilometers (117,000 square miles).
The hunt for the Boeing 777 has been punctuated by several false leads since it disappeared March 8 above the Gulf of Thailand.
Oil slicks that were spotted did not contain jet fuel. A yellow object thought to be from the plane turned out to be a piece of sea trash. Chinese satellite images showed possible plane debris, but nothing was found.
But this is the first time that possible objects have been spotted since the search area was massively expanded into two corridors, one stretching from northern Thailand into Central Asia and the other from the Strait of Malacca down to southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.
Abbott said he spoke to the prime minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, about the latest developments. Australia's envoy to Malaysia, Rod Smith, joined a meeting of senior Malaysia search officials at a Kuala Lumpur hotel after Abbott's announcement. Smith did not respond to reporters' questions.
"As I've been doing from day one, I've followed every single lead. And this time, I hope it is a positive development," Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters.