Military planes from Australia, the U.S. and New Zealand are searching for two objects spotted by satellite in the southern Indian Ocean that could be related to the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Thursday.
Abbott told Parliament in Canberra that an Orion and three additional aircraft, including a U.S. P-8 are involved in the search. Abbott cautioned, however, that the task of locating these objects will be difficult and "it may turn out that they are not related to the search for flight MH370."
John Young, manager of Australian Maritime Safety Authority's emergency response division, said the planes have been sent to check on the two objects spotted by satellite imagery. One of the objects was just short of 80 feet in length, while the other was 15 feet in length.
"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 shipping route where containers can fall off cargo vessels, though the larger object was longer than a container.
Young told reporters, "We have been in this business of doing search and rescue and using sat images before and they 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."
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 on Wednesday from 232,000 square miles to 117,000 square miles.
Young said the depth of the ocean in the latest area, which is south from where the search had been focused since Monday, is several thousand yards. He said commercial satellites had been redirected in the hope of getting higher resolution images. He did not say when that would happen. The current images are not sharp enough to determine any markings.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority released two images of the whitish objects floating on or just under the surface. The images were taken March 16, but Australian Air Commodore John McGarry said it took time to analyze them.
"The task of analyzing imagery is quite difficult, it requires drawing down frames and going through frame by frame. The moment this imagery was discovered to reveal a possible object that might indicate a debris field, we have passed the information from defense across to AMSA for their action," he said.
Others said it was most likely not pieces of Flight 370. "The chances of it being debris from the airplane are probably small, and the chances of it being debris from other shipping are probably large,"Jason Middleton, an aviation professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, told The Associated Press.
The area where the debris was spotted is about halfway between Australia and desolate islands off the Antarctic.
Middleton also said the ocean to the west and south of Perth where the objects were spotted is notoriously stormy.
Selamat Bin Omar, a father of a passenger on the missing plane, said he could only wait for the results of the search and accept that fate.
"We do not yet know for sure whether this is indeed MH370 or something else," he said. "We are still waiting for further notice from the Australian government."
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