More planes were joining the search on Sunday of a remote patch of the southern Indian Ocean in hopes of finding answers to the fate of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, after China released a satellite image showing a large object floating in the search zone.
The desolate area in the Indian Ocean is about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, Australia, where three days of searching for similar images from another satellite that emerged earlier in the week have produced no results.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordination the operation from the country's western coast, said it refined the search based on the latest clue from the Chinese satellite showing an object that appeared to be 22 meters (72 feet) by 13 meters (43 feet). It said that the object's position also fell within Saturday's search area but it had not been sighted.
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A Chinese Ilyushin IL-76s aircraft sit on the tarmac at RAAF Pearce base ready to join the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in Perth, Australia, Sunday. AP
Sunday's search involving eight aircraft has been split into two areas within the same proximity covering 59,000 square kilometers (22,800 square miles). These areas have been determined by drift modelling, the AMSA said.
Recent updates from AMSA
# All aircraft involved in today's MH370 search have now departed Perth. Five aircraft currently in search area.
# Four civil aircraft now in MH370 search area. Three aircraft currently en route.
# A civil aircraft arrived in the MH370 search area at midday AEDT. Five more aircraft are now en route.
# AMSA's latest update on the MH370 search is available here: http://bit.ly/1gdCyJ5
# Air observers for today's MH370 search include 20 SES volunteers from Western Australia.
# A total of eight aircraft will be involved in today's MH370 search. HMAS Success is also conducting search activities today.
# Two civil aircraft and a US Navy P8 Poseidon aircraft are now en route to the MH370 search area.
Search area from 18th March to 23rd March
Credit : AMSA
Despite the frustrating lack of answers, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was upbeat.
"Obviously we have now had a number of very credible leads and there is increasing hope - no more than hope, no more than hope - that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen to this ill-fated aircraft," Abbott told reporters in Papua New Guinea.
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein put a message on his Twitter account Sunday asking those in churches around the country to offer a "prayer please" for the passengers and crew on Fight 370.
More than 300 Malaysian cycling enthusiasts rode their bikes to the Kuala Lumpur airport to remember the people onboard the jet. The cyclists decorated the bikes with small Malaysian flags and stickers that read "Pray for MH370."
A Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion takes off at RAAF Pearce Base to join the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in Perth. AFP
Six planes left a base near Perth on the four-hour journey to the search region, the safety authority said. Two more will fly out later. The HMAS Success, an Australian navy supply ship, is also taking part.
A cold front was forecast to move through the region later Sunday, which could bring clouds and wind, further hampering efforts to locate the plane.
The latest satellite image is another clue in the baffling search for Flight 370, which dropped off air traffic control screens March 8 over the Gulf of Thailand with 239 people on board.
"China hopes that these data will be helpful for searching and rescuing efforts," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement.
Hand-written notes on how a crew member should report the sighting of debris in the southern Indian Ocean is pictured on a window aboard a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft searching for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. REUTERS
The missing plane, which had been bound for Beijing, carried 153 Chinese passengers.
After about a week of confusion, Malaysian authorities said pings sent by the Boeing 777-200 for several hours after it disappeared indicated that the plane ended up in one of two huge arcs: a northern corridor stretching from Malaysia to Central Asia, or a southern corridor that stretches toward Antarctica.
The discovery of the initial two objects by a satellite led several countries to send planes and ships to a stretch of the ocean southwest of Australia. But three days of searching have produced no confirmed signs of the plane.
One of the objects spotted in the earlier satellite imagery was described as 24 meters (almost 80 feet) in length and the other was 5 meters (15 feet).
Australian Navy's HMAS Success, seen from the widow of a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion, searches for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean, Australia. AP
In a statement on its website announcing China's find, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense did not explain why it took four days to release the information. But there was a similar delay in the release of the initial satellite images because experts needed time to examine them.
Two military planes from China have arrived in Perth, and the AMSA said they would join the search on Monday. They join Australian, New Zealand and U.S. aircraft. Japanese planes are also expected soon.
Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said the currents in the area typically move at about one meter (yard) per second but can sometimes move faster.
Based on the typical speed, a current could theoretically move a floating object about 173 kilometers (107 miles) in two days.
But even if both satellites detected the same object, it may be unrelated to the plane. One possibility is that it could have fallen off a cargo vessel.
Because the search area is a four-hour flight from land, some of the planes can search for about only two hours before they must fly back. Others may be able to stay for up to five hours before heading back to the base.
The area where the objects were first identified by the Australian authorities is marked by strong currents and rough seas, and the ocean depth varies between 1,150 meters (3,770 feet) and 7,000 meters (23,000 feet). In addition, Hishammuddin said a low-level warning had been declared for Tropical Cyclone Gillian, although that was north of Australia and closer to Indonesia.
Malaysian authorities have not ruled out any possible explanation for what happened to the jet, but have said the evidence so far suggests it was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca, with its communications systems disabled. They are unsure what happened next.
Police are considering the possibilities of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or anyone else on board.
Malaysia has also asked the US for undersea surveillance equipment to help in the search.
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Here is a breakdown of the ships and planes involved in the operation:
- One US Navy P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft. The Poseidon carries next-generation ultra-high definition electro-optic cameras and sensors, capable of detecting and zeroing in on small objects on the water's surface. 400 such hits during initial searches out of Malaysia. Can fly 7,500km without refuelling. Unveiled in November at the Dubai Airshow
- One New Zealand P3 Orion. The Orion has sophisticated radar, infrared detectors, magnetic anomaly detectors and acoustic detectors designed to locate enemy submarines. 15 hours' endurance.
- Two Australian P3 Orions and four civilian aircraft with volunteer spotters: two Bombardier Global Express jets, one Gulfstream 5, one Airbus A319
- Two Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 military transport carriers have arrived in Perth ahead of operational deployment
- Two Japanese P3 Orions are en route to Perth
- Australia's HMAS Success support ship on active search duties. The vessel, 157 metres in length, is the largest ship built in the country for the Royal Australian Navy. It is designed to offer logistics support to naval combat vessels. It has a large deck and cranes with a lift capacity of about two tonnes
- Britain's HMS Echo has been tasked to the hunt. The ship is designed to carry out a wide range of survey work, including support to submarine and amphibious operations
- Seven Chinese rescue and navy ships are en route to the search zone along with Antarctic icebreaker Xue Long
- Norwegian merchant vessel Hoegh St Petersburg has been released from search efforts
Images released by China
A Chinese satellite image of an object spotted in the southern Indian Ocean that could be wreckage from missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. (Reuters)
Search area of the reported position by Chinese satellites
Credit : AMSA