A Chinese aircraft flying over the search zone for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 yesterday spotted several objects floating in the sea – including two bearing the missing plane’s colours.
An Ilyushin IL-76 spotted three floating objects a day after several planes and ships combing the newly targeted area closer to mainland Australia saw several others.
It has yet to be established if the debris came from MH370, which went missing on route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March with 239 people on board.
Ships from China and Australia scooped up items described only as “objects from the ocean,” but none were “confirmed to be related” to MH370, said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa), which is overseeing the search.
Malaysian defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein, speaking after meeting several families of passengers, said it was possible the objects were flotsam, waste or other objects thrown from ships. “I’ve got to wait to get the reports on whether they have retrieved those objects... those will give us some indication,” he said.
Relatives and friends of the passengers said they were tortured by the uncertainty over the fate of their loved ones.
“This is the trauma of maybe he’s dead, maybe he’s not. Maybe he’s still alive and we need to find him. Maybe he died within the first hour of the flight, and we don’t know,” said Sarah Bajc, the American girlfriend of passenger Philip Wood, from Beijing.
Amsa said objects cannot be verified or discounted as being from MH370 until they are relocated and recovered by ships, which are yet to reach the new site.
“It is not known how much flotsam, such as from fishing activities, is ordinarily there. At least one distinctive fishing object has been identified,” an Amsa statement said.
The three objects spotted by the Chinese plane yesterday were white, red and orange in colour. White and red were among the colours on the outside of the missing Boeing 777.
Speculation as to what happened to the plane has ranged from equipment failure to a botched hijacking to terrorism or sabotage by one of the pilots.
The latter was fuelled by reports that the pilot’s home flight simulator had files deleted from it, but Hussein said checks, including ones by the FBI, had turned up no new information.
“What I know is that there is nothing sinister from the simulators, but of course that will have to be confirmed by the chief of police,” he said.
Newly analysed satellite data shifted the search zone on Friday, raising hopes searchers may be closer to getting physical evidence that the plane crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.
That would also help narrow the hunt for the wreckage and the plane’s black boxes, which could contain clues as to what caused the plane to be so far off course.
The United States Navy has already sent equipment that can detect pings from the black boxes, and Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, speaking in Sydney, said the equipment would be put on an Australian naval ship soon.
The newly targeted zone is nearly 700 miles north-east of sites crisscrossed by searchers last week. The redeployment came after analysts determined that the plane may have been travelling faster than previously estimated and would therefore have run out of fuel sooner.
Abbott said locating the debris would be difficult.
“We should not underestimate the difficulty of this work – it is an extraordinarily remote location.”
If investigators can determine that the plane went down in the newly targeted zone – which spans 123,000 square miles, roughly the size of Poland – recovery of its flight data and cockpit voice recorders could be still complicated. The sea in the area is between 6,600ft to 19,700ft deep.