Spotter planes have spent a second fruitless day scouring a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean for wreckage from a Malaysian jet, as Chinese relatives of the missing passengers clashed with Malaysian officials.
Australian and US military aircraft usually used for anti-submarine operations criss-crossed the isolated search area on Friday 2500 kilometres southwest of Perth, looking for two floating objects that had shown up on grainy satellite photos taken several days before.
Although the images were too indistinct to confirm as debris from Flight MH370, Australian and Malaysian officials said they represented the most “credible” leads to date in the hunt for the plane and its 239 passengers and crew.
The planes flew low under the cloud cover rather than rely on radar, after poor weather the day before hampered the search.
“We replanned the search to be visual, so aircraft flying relatively low, with very highly skilled observers looking out of the windows,” said AMSA official John Young.
“This means aircraft operating more closely together and we will need more aircraft for this task.”
Friday’s aerial contingent comprised three Australian air force P-3 Orions, a US Navy P-8 Poseidon and a civil Bombardier Global Express jet.
The distance from the west coast of Australia allows the planes only about two hours of actual search time before they must turn around with enough fuel to get back to Perth.
Chinese ice breaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon) joined the search after refuelling at Fremantle and was expected to arrive in the area within three to four days, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The ship was involved in the rescue of scientists whose Antarctic expedition became trapped in sea ice in January.
Two merchant ships were also helping with the search, but Australia’s HMAS Success, which is capable of retrieving any wreckage, was still days away.
“This is going to be a long haul,” Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a daily press briefing in Kuala Lumpur.
Clear conditions on Saturday
Fine weather should aid the search off the West Australian coast for missing flight MH370 when it resumes at first light.
Spotter planes on Friday spent a second fruitless day scouring a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean, where possible wreckage from the Malaysia Airlines plane had been identified by satellite.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority is leading the search and says it is still being treated as a rescue operation, two weeks after the jet disappeared.
Two ultra-long-range commercial jets and a RAAF P3 Orion will be the first aircraft to set off for the search zone when they depart Perth about 6am (WST).
The bad weather that hampered search operations on Thursday has cleared.
“The area will have pretty much light surface winds, generally less than about 10 knots. We’re not expecting any significant weather,” Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Luke Huntington told ABC radio.
“Visibility should be greatly improved.”
Two merchant ships are assisting in the search area and the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Success is due to arrive at the search area on Saturday afternoon.