PERTH: A vast international hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 resumed at dawn in the southern Indian Ocean on Monday, buoyed by a cluster of weekend sightings that have fuelled hopes of a breakthrough.
A Chinese military plane set off from Perth at first light to search for “suspicious debris” floating in the remote waters and captured by Chinese and Australian satellite imagery, China´s state news agency Xinhua said.
The sighting of a wooden pallet and other debris that may be linked to a Malaysian passenger jet gave the sense Sunday that the hunt was finally on the right track after more than two weeks of false leads and dead ends.
It was reinforced by new French satellite data indicating floating objects in the southern search area.
Australian officials said the pallet, along with belts or straps, was spotted Saturday in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean that has become the focus of the search — around 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth.
“It´s still too early to be definite,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters during a visit to Papua New Guinea.
“But 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.”
Australian and Chinese satellite images have picked up large objects floating in the inhospitable region, and Malaysia´s transport ministry said Sunday that France had provided similar data “in the vicinity of the southern corridor”.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) confirmed that the pallet and other debris marked the “first visual sighting” since Australian, New Zealand and US spotter planes began scouring the area on Thursday.
Wooden pallets are quite common in aircraft and ship cargo holds.The objects were spotted by observers on one of the civilian aircraft taking part in the search.
An air force P3 Orion aircraft with specialist electro-optic observation equipment was diverted to the same location, but only reported sighting clumps of seaweed.
“That´s the nature of it,” AMSA aircraft operations coordinator Mike Barton said.”You only have to be off by a few hundred metres in a fast-travelling aircraft.”Sunday´s search involving four military and four civilian aircraft plus an Australian warship ended with “no sightings of significance”, AMSA said.Sunday´s search covered 59,000 square km (23,600 sq miles).- More ships, planes –
China has dispatched seven ships to the hunt for the plane, adding to British and Australian naval ships involved.
“Obviously the more aircraft we have, the more ships we have, the more confident we are of recovering whatever material is down there,” Abbott said.China´s military plane will search an area about 400 kilometres long and 30 kilometres wide, close to where satellite images showed up objects possibly related to the missing jet, Xinhua news agency reported Monday.