A cluster of orange objects spotted by a plane searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet turned out to be fishing equipment and was the latest disappointment in the three-week hunt.
Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbott yesterday told a news conference in Perth, Western Australia – where the operation is being co-ordinated – the hunt for flight MH370 was still being stepped up, and will continue indefinitely.
Ten aircraft and 11 ships are scouring the sea west of Perth for debris from the airliner. The signal from its flight-data recorder lasts about 30 days.
The Beijing-bound plane from Kuala Lumpur disappeared on 8 March with 239 people on board. Several floating objects have been found in different areas of the southern Indian Ocean during the search in recent days, but none is believed to belong to the missing plane.
The Australian prime minister said: “We can keep searching for quite some time to come.
“The intensity of our search and the magnitude of our search is increasing, not decreasing.”
He added: “This is an extraordinarily difficult exercise … We are searching a vast area of ocean and we are working on quite limited information. If this mystery is solvable, we will solve it.”
His comments came after the crew of an Australian P-3 Orion saw at least four orange objects more than two metres in size on Sunday. But yesterday, Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) spokesman Jesse Platts said an analysis confirmed the objects “have nothing to do with the missing flight”.
Mr Abbott said the search was operating on estimates “until we locate some actual wreckage from the aircraft and then do the regression analysis that might tell us where the aircraft went into the ocean”.
Last night it emerged the final message from one of the pilots to the control tower were: “Good night Malaysian three seven zero”, rather than the previous account of: “All right, good night.” Though apparently insignificant, the correction was made as Malaysian authorities face heavy criticism for their handling of the disappearance.
Ten planes and 11 ships took part in searches yesterday, about 1,150 miles west of Australia, but AMSA last night said nothing of significance was found.
Former Australian defence chief Angus Houston yesterday began his job of heading the new Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre, which will oversee communication with international agencies involved in the search. The Perth-based centre will position Australia to shoulder more of Malaysia’s co-ordination responsibilities as the search continues.
The Ocean Shield, an Australian warship which is carrying a US device that detects “pings” from the flight recorders, is also now en route to the vast search zone.
Meanwhile, several dozen Chinese relatives of Flight 370 passengers visited a Buddhist temple near Kuala Lumpur yesterday to pray for their loved ones.
Buddhist nuns handed out prayer beads to them. “You are not alone,” one nun said. “You have the whole world’s love, including Malaysia’s.”
The family members later made a brief statement, expressing their appreciation to the Chinese government and the people of Malaysia and the volunteers who have been assisting them.
“To those who are guilty of harming our loved ones, hiding the truth, and delaying the search and rescue, we will also definitely not forgive them,” said a family representative, Jiang Hui.
Various theories about what went wrong with the plane have been suggested, including hijacking, pilot suicide and engine failure.