Published March 23, 2014
Malaysia says France has provided satellite images that show more possible debris from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Malaysia's Transport Ministry said in a statement Sunday that it had received images from French authorities showing "potential objects in the vicinity of the southern corridor." The description refers to an area of the southern Indian Ocean where satellites from Australia and China have also captured images showing objects that may be debris from the plane that vanished early on the morning of March 8 while en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing.
The French satellite images themselves had not been released or described by Malaysia, France or Australia hours after the announcement of their existence. In an emailed statement, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority declined to offer details about what they showed or where the objects were located and did not respond to multiple requests by The Associated Press for access to the images.
But a Malaysian official involved in the search mission said the images were captured Friday and pinpointed objects about 575 miles north of the spots where the objects in the images released by Australia and China were located.
Flight 370 disappeared over the Gulf of Thailand on March 8 with 239 people on board, setting off a multinational search effort that has turned up nothing conclusive so far on what happened to the jet.
Sunday's search for the objects was frustrating because "there was cloud down to the surface and at times we were completely enclosed by cloud," Royal Australian Air Force flight Lt. Russell Adams told reporters at the military base where the planes take off and land on their missions.
Earlier Sunday, eight planes also were deployed from a military base in western Australia to search for a wooden pallet spotted by a civilian search plane late Saturday. Wooden pallets are commonly used in shipping, but can also be used in cargo containers carried on planes.
Malaysia Airlines did not immediately confirm whether pallets were on board Flight 370. Sam Cardwell, a spokesman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, said the maritime agency had requested a cargo manifest from Malaysia Airlines, but he was unsure whether it had been received as of Sunday night.
Mike Barton, chief of AMSA's rescue coordination center, told reporters in Canberra, Australia, that the pallet was surrounded by several other objects, including what appeared to be strapping belts of different colors.
A New Zealand P3 Orion military plane was then sent to find it but failed, he said.
"So, we've gone back to that area again today to try and re-find it," Barton said. A merchant ship in the area has also been sent to try to identify the material.
"We went to some of the expert airlines and the use of wooden pallets is quite common in the industry," Barton said. "They're usually packed into another container which is loaded in the belly of the aircraft. ... It's a possible lead, but we will need to be very certain that this is a pallet because pallets are used in the shipping industry as well."
When Brazilian searchers in 2009 were looking for debris from Air France Flight 447 after it mysteriously plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, the first thing they found was a wooden pallet. The military first reported that the pallet came from the Air France flight, but then said six hours later that the plane had not been carrying any wooden pallets.
Speaking to reporters in Papua New Guinea, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said, "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."
Experts also want to check a vast area of the Indian Ocean for an object seen on satellite images released by China Saturday that may have come from the missing jet. Sunday's search was split into two areas within the same proximity covering 22,800 square miles. These areas have been determined by drift modeling, AMSA said.
The Chinese satellite image showed an object measuring approximately 72 feet by 43 feet. Air and sea searches since Thursday have not produced any results.
John Young, manager of AMSA's emergency response division, said Sunday's search was mainly relying on human eyes.
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.
"China hopes that these data will be helpful for searching and rescuing efforts," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement.
Malaysia has asked the U.S. for undersea surveillance equipment to help in the search.
To assist in search efforts, two military planes from China have arrived in Perth, and the AMSA said they would join the hunt on Monday. They will join Australian, New Zealand and U.S. aircraft. Japanese planes are also expected soon.
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.
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.
Meanwhile, 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."
Like other relatives of passengers of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Wang Zheng's frustration and anger over a lack of any certain information about the fate of his loved ones continues to grow two weeks after the plane disappeared.
"Biggest of all is the emotional turmoil I've been going through. I can't eat, I can't sleep. I've been dreaming of my parents every day," said the 30-year-old IT engineer from Beijing, whose father and mother, Wang Linshi and Xiong Yunming, were both aboard the flight as part of a group of Chinese artists touring Malaysia.
At a sprawling hotel complex in Beijing, the relatives rise each morning and eat breakfast — at least those who can muster the appetite — before attending a briefing on the missing plane. Then follows another long day of watching the news and waiting, before an evening briefing that inevitably offers little more information.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.