Australian and Chinese search planes spotted objects in the Indian Ocean on Monday, in the multinational search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared without a trace more than two weeks ago.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority – which is coordinating the search – announced Monday that a Chinese aircraft reported seeing two large objects while flying at an altitude of 33,000 feet.
Also on Monday, a Royal Australian Air Force Orion “spotted two objects near the search area,” AMSA reported.
A correspondent with China’s Xinhua news agency aboard the IL-76 aircraft reported that the crew spotted “two relatively big floating objects with many white smaller ones scattered within a radius of several kilometers.”
However, a U.S. Navy P8 Poseidon was “unable to relocate objects” spotted by the Chinese search plane, AMSA said on its Twitter feed.
The news agency reported that the Chinese icebreaker Xuelong was sent to check that location. It is expected to arrive in the area early Tuesday.
One of the items described as a white, square-shaped object was photographed from the plane, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said according to the Associated Press.
“We are still racing against time,” Hong said, adding that six other Chinese ships have been deployed toward the search zone as well as 20 fishing vessels. “As long as there is a glimmer of hope, our search efforts will carry on.”
The sightings were reported to be in an area earlier identified by satellite images as containing possible debris from the Boeing-777.
The U.S. Pacific command announced it was sending a black box locator to the area of the southern Indian Ocean to be prepared for any discoveries as the batteries on black boxes are said to last only 30 days.
The AP reported, “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, 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 added.
An Australian naval ship, the Ocean Shield, which is equipped with acoustic detection equipment, was also being moved to the area, the AP reported.
On Monday, ten planes – from Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and the U.S. – were involved in the aerial effort around the search zone which is a four hour flight from western Australia.
Malaysian police chief, Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters on Monday that all the passengers aboard MH370 had been cleared of suspicion, but that the pilots and crew continue to be investigated.