Aircraft from the Royal Australian Navy are combing the Indian Ocean 2500km south-west of Perth after satellite images discovered possible debris from flight MH370.
A satellite detected two objects in the ocean, one 24 metres long, about fours by plane from the WA capital, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the Malaysian plane’s mysterious disappearance, as relatives of the 239 people aboard braced for another emotional roller-coaster.
Although authorities were quick to point out that floating objects such as shipping containers were common in the ocean, an object 24 metres long would dwarf a standard shipping container.
Late on Thursday, rain and low cloud were hampering efforts by searchers to locate the objects, with reports that the captain of the first plane on the scene describing the weather as “extremely bad”.
By early Friday, an RAAF Orion had not been able to find the objects.
The possible breakthrough was announced in parliament by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and quickly picked up by global media.
Australian Maritime Safety Authority emergency response general manager, John Young, told a press conference on Thursday afternoon that aircraft from the RAAF, as well as from the Royal New Zealand Airforce and the United States Navy, had been tasked with searching the area.
A commercial ship also has been directed to the area and was expected to arrive on Thursday night while the naval ship HMAS Success is steaming towards to the area but is unlikely to arrive before the weekend.
Mr Young said the satellite imagery showed the objects were “awash”.
“This is a lead. This is probably the best lead we have now,” he said.
“The size and fact that there were a number (of objects) located in the same area makes it really worth a look.”
But like the Prime Minister, Mr Young cautioned against hasty expectations of an outcome of the search because of unfavourable weather conditions.
“We may get a sighting, we may not. We may get it tomorrow, we may not,” he said.
“But we will continue to do this until we locate those objects or we are convinced that we cannot find them.”
Assessment of the images came from the Australian Defence Imagery and Geospatial Intelligence Organisation.
Mr Young said the objects could prove very difficult to locate.
Meanwhile Defence Minister David Johnston said they should know something definite on the possible debris discovery within “two or three days”.
Speaking from Jakarta, Senator Johnston said the ADF was doing everything it could.
Mr Young said conditions were difficult and it was clear the “weather is not playing the game with us”.
“Weather conditions are moderate in the southern Indian Ocean where the search is taking place however poor visibility has been reported.
“This will hamper both air and satellite efforts.”
The announcement was greeted cautiously in Malaysia whose officials have been much-criticised for the conduct of the search effort.
Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the latest discovery “while credible, was still to be confirmed”.
“Every lead is a hope,” Mr Hishammuddin said earlier in the day.
“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”.
Mr Hishammuddin indicated it could take a long time to get to the truth, with the black from the Air France disaster in 2009 taking two years to find.
He indicated looking at the possibility of using specialised sonar technology to find the wreck, albeit this technology would have to come from other nations as it was something Malaysian submarines did not have.
He noted the search had reached as far as Kazakhstan and that the United Kingdom planned to send a vessel to assist with searching in the so-called southern corridor.
Turmoil for relatives
Earlier, angry Chinese relatives tried to gatecrash a Malaysian media briefing resulting in chaotic scenes.
Shouting and crying, several relatives of passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines flight 370 unfurled a protest banner on Wednesday reading “Give us back our families”. They accused Malaysian authorities of withholding information and doing too little to find the plane.
The dramatic protest unfolded just before Malaysian officials arrived for the briefing, in which they announced no progress in determining what befell the plane.
In the Thursday evening conference Minister Hishammuddin said there had been meetings between Chinese families and Malaysian officials.
• A 24 metre object has been spotted by satellite in the Indian Ocean 2500km south-west of Perth
• Aircraft searching the area include two RAAF Orion aircraft, a US Navy P8 Poseidon and a Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion
• An RAAF C-130 Hercules has been tasked with dropping datum marker buoys
• Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Success is sailing to the area, but is several days away but is said to be well-equipped to recover objects from an aircraft.