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Chinese plane spots objects in Indian Ocean

PERTH, Australia (AP) - A Chinese plane on Monday spotted two white, square-shaped objects in an area identified by satellite imagery as containing possible debris from the missing Malaysian airliner, while the United States separately prepared to send a specialized device that can locate black boxes.

The crew aboard an IL-76 plane sighted the object in the southern Indian Ocean and reported the coordinates to the Australian command center, which is coordinating the multinational search, as well as the Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon, which is en route to the area, China's Xinhua News Agency reported.

The spotters saw two larger floating objects and some smaller, white debris scattered over several square kilometers (miles), the report said. It gave no other details.

Satellite images released by Australia and China had earlier identified possible debris in the area that may be linked to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 on March 8 with 239 people aboard.

The U.S. Pacific command said it was sending a black box locator in case a debris field is located. 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 (6,100 meters), 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 said.

The ocean depth in the search area ranges between 1,150 meters (3,770 feet) and 7,000 meters (23,000 feet).

An Australian defense official said an Australian navy support vessel, the Ocean Shield, was also moving into the search zone and would arrive in three or four days. The ship is equipped with acoustic detection equipment that can search for the missing plane's black box.

There was no sign the moves was linked to any breakthrough in the mystery of the plane, but rather as a preparation.

"The time for the battery life (of the pinger) is potentially only a month," said Jason Middleton, aviation professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. "If debris was found, it would be terrible not have anything on site and waste time" getting a ping detector to the region. "I think they're planning ahead and getting it ready."

The Chinese plane was one of two Ilyushins that joined the search Monday from Perth, increasing the number of aircraft to 10 from eight a day earlier.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the objects spotted Monday were "within today's search area and attempts will be made to relocate them."

Bad weather was threatening the search efforts in the area, about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth. Australia's Bureau of Meteorology reported increased winds, low cloud and a reduction in visibility. On Tuesday, a cold front was expected to move through the search area from the west, bringing showers, more low cloud and less visibility. Tropical Cyclone Gillian, which is further to the north, will not impact the area.

The search was given added momentum when a French satellite detected potential debris on Sunday, after Australia and China earlier released satellite images identifying suspect objects.

Australian authorities had sent planes and a ship to try to locate a wooden pallet that was spotted on Saturday from a search plane, but the spotters were unable to take photos of it.

Wooden pallets are most commonly used by ships but are also used in airplane cargo holds, and an official with Malaysia Airlines said Sunday night that the flight was, in fact, carrying wooden pallets. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with company policy.

In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said in an interview with The Associated Press that the satellite radar echoes "identified some debris that could be from the Malaysian Airlines plane."

The spokesman said that these echoes "are not images with a definition like a photograph, but they do allow us to identify the nature of an object and to localize it."

Gathering satellite echo data involves sending a beam of energy to the Earth and then analyzing it when it bounces back, according to Joseph Bermudez Jr., chief analytics officer at AllSource Analysis, a commercial satellite intelligence firm.

Satellite radar echoes can be converted into an image that would look similar to a black-and-white photo, though not as clear, he said. "You'd have to know what you're looking at," Bermudez said.

Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss said the French radar data located the objects about 850 kilometers (520 miles) north of the current search area, and that "we need to check that out as well."

The southern Indian Ocean is thought to be a potential area to find the jet because Malaysian authorities have 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.

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.

Authorities are considering the possibilities of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.

Malaysia's police chief, Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar reiterated at a news conference Monday that all the passengers had been cleared of suspicion.

But he said that the pilots and crew were still being investigated. He would not comment on whether investigators had recovered the files that were deleted a month earlier from the home flight simulator of the chief pilot.

In the U.S., Tony Blinken, President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, said on CNN: "There is no prevailing theory."

"Publicly or privately, we don't know," he said. "We're chasing down every theory."

Join the discussion

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dal March 24 2014 at 5:44 AM

good luck

Flag Reply +3 rate up
vjones3563 March 24 2014 at 6:46 AM

It has now been 16 days since this aircraft went missing. I can't begin to imagine how family members of the people on board can manage to cope with the thought that they may never see their loved ones again. And at the same time, with all of the technology in the world, how some sort of electronic equipment has not been discovered. Whether we follow a conspiracy theory, hijacking or crashing, it is very scary. I have read the posts from others and many make a definite point to the theory. I pray for the passengers and loved ones so there may be some form of closure.

I alo pray that our worst fears are not realized and the plane is going to be used in a terrorist attack.

I don't know about others but I can not believe we have National Security after 9/11.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Zoe March 24 2014 at 9:35 AM

So they spot debris and instead of showing it to us, they show some airplanes and carriers???

Flag Reply +6 rate up
1 reply
nikkiandzac Zoe March 24 2014 at 9:39 AM

so, right at the beginning it was shown that these two were trying to get to Europe for political asylum. In case you did not know Malaysia is having some political turmoil

Flag Reply 0 rate up
ANTHONY@MAW.BC.CA March 24 2014 at 9:31 AM

This search effort demonstrates the capabilities, and limits, of current technology. At the same time it also points out the geographic and range limits of global electronic surveillance.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
patmcurran ANTHONY@MAW.BC.CA March 24 2014 at 9:42 AM

Unless you ask the aRepubs who say that Obama is spying on everyone and knows all.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Angela March 24 2014 at 10:23 AM

I hope they come up with something. The families need answers!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
phrankly March 24 2014 at 8:48 AM

we will probably never know the truth in our lifetime what the whole stat's. are.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
Zoe March 24 2014 at 8:56 AM

If they've spotted something, why are the not showing these images? Can they not take pictures?

Flag Reply +5 rate up
2 replies
Latchmie Zoe March 24 2014 at 9:11 AM

Because there is obviously more to the situation than what is being released to the public. There is something wrong!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
Zoe Latchmie March 24 2014 at 9:13 AM

I know, right! Pretty scary what they're doing here. Something is very wrong.

Flag 0 rate up
wiz Zoe March 24 2014 at 9:13 AM

This will turn outto be nothing. Not trying to be negative here, but we have reached the point where the mystery is a non story and the media is making it into one. CNN ratings off the charts and they continue to repeat the same gibberish. Call me when they find something. Terribly sad story but true. The media is brutal

Flag Reply +3 rate up
Greg March 24 2014 at 9:21 AM

I heard the co-pilot and all the passengers and crew have been cleared of suspicion of any involvement by the CIA... the only person that still hasn't been cleared is the pilot. How about reporting why he hasn't been? Who did he call? What info did they find on his home fight simulator that he erased a month ago? What did his wife have to say when she was questioned? These are questions that we all know they have asked and looked into, so why are they not reporting on what they have learned so far? The only reason I can come up with is that they do know something and feel if they release it to the press it could jeopardize their investigation.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
3 replies
thomas stephen March 24 2014 at 7:16 AM

The hope for survivors is practically gone, now, it's a search & recovery mission, My condolences and prayers to the relatives and friends of the victims, it was senseless and uncalled for, I do believe it was a criminal act

Flag Reply +7 rate up
KLINE FAMILY March 24 2014 at 10:25 AM

Future National Geographic and Air Disaster special.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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