Objects possibly related to the search for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane have been identified in the Southern Ocean search area being scoured by Australian investigators.
The discoveries were revealed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott in parliament today when he said satellite images showed debris that could potentially be from the missing Boeing aircraft.
“I would like to inform the House that new and credible information has come to light,” he said.
“The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has received information based on satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search.”
In a press conference, AMSA said the objects were indistinct and were possibly as large as 24 metres in length with a number of smaller objects in the vicinity. The satellite imagery showed the images were “awash”.
“This is a lead. This is probably the best lead we have now,” said AMSA’s John Young.
“The size and fact that there were a number (of objects) located in the same area makes it really worth a look.”
Four planes, including one from the US and one from New Zealand, have been diverted to the area to try and find the objects. The first plane arrived at 1.50pm this afternoon and would have enough fuel to spend about two hours in the search zone. The objects were seen approximately four hours by air from Perth.
He added that there was a possibility of a sighting late on Thursday. While the weather in the area was “moderate”, he said visibility was low.
The Australian Navy’s HMAS Success was en route to the search zone but was not expected to arrive for days. It would be equipped to collect debris.
A C130 Hercules was sent to to drop data marker buoys which will provide “information about water movement to assist in drift modelling” and provide reference points for searchers.
A merchant ship was expected to arrive in the search zone at 6pm “having been diverted”. The search will continue “with all available ships and aircraft”.
Commercial satellites have been redeployed to the area to scan the area, and those image will be made available “in due course”.
But like the Prime Minister, AMSA’s John Young refused to speculate on what the debris could be, saying any judgment would be reserved until the objects were found.
“Our experience is that there is debris out there. It can come from ships, for example, from falling overboard and other objects of that type,” said Mr Young.
But he said the size and “the fact that a number are located in the same area” lends credibility to the sighting.
AMSA said the “assessment of the images was provided by the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation as
a possible indication of debris south of the search area that has been the focus of the search operation”.
“Every lead is a hope,” Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters on Thursday at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where he is overseeing an international search effort.
“We have been very consistent. We want to verify, we want to corroborate,” he said.
“This time I just hope that it is a positive development,” Hishammuddin said.
Mr Abbott said he has informed Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak of the developments. But he warned against drawing any premature conclusions.
“We must keep in mind the task of locating these objects will be extremely difficult and it may turn out that they are not related to the search for flight MH370,” Mr Abbott said.
So far the investigation has focused on the possibility that the plane was deliberately diverted from its flight path.
The plane is thought to have travelled in either of two directions: north west into Asia or south west into the Indian Ocean.
Australia has been leading the search in the southern vector, specifically an area 3200 kilometres south-west of Perth.
The search has been dogged by previous false leads, including Chinese satellite images of suspected debris published earlier which turned out to be a red herring.