A Chinese satellite has spotted a large object floating in the same south Indian Ocean area that has become a focal point in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.
A Chinese defence agency said on its website that satellite pictures taken around noon on Tuesday shows an object measuring 22.5 metres by 13 metres and located about 120km southwest of where Australia two days earlier captured images of two indistinct objects, one of them estimated at 24 metres long.
Officials say these could be related to the flight that disappeared March 8.
Since Australia reported its satellite sightings on Thursday, an increasingly intensifying effort has been undertaken to comb the waters about 2500km off the coast of Perth.
The Australian Maritime and Safety Authority (AMSA), which is co-ordinating the hunt for the wreckage, said on Saturday evening it was too early to say if the new image would alter its search patterns.
The emergence of the new photo was announced shortly beforehand in Kuala Lumpur by Malaysian Transport Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, who was a handed a note during his daily press briefing.
A visibly animated Hishammuddin wrapped up the briefing early “to follow this lead”.
Chinese, British and Australian naval ships are already steaming to the search area and the new image will provide welcome backing for the decision to deploy so many resources without confirmation the objects are pieces of the plane.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said more analysis was needed to determine if the object was related to the missing plane.
“China hopes that these data will be helpful for searching and rescuing efforts,” said Hong, according to Xinhua news agency.
China already has five ships in the southern corridor and is sending an additional two there, Hishammuddin said in a statement during a daily press briefing, which was cut short by the Chinese satellite news.
He also said two Chinese aircraft capable of hauling heavy items were to arrive on Saturday in Perth to join Australia, the US and New Zealand in the search operations.
Two merchant ships and an Australian navy vessel also are in the search area, which encompasses around 36,000 square kilometres.
Japanese planes will arrive on Sunday, and two Indian aircraft that landed in Malaysia on Friday night also will assist with the search in the southern area, Hishammuddin said.
In addition, a British vessel equipped with underwater search sensors is en route, he said.
Anger boils over
Two-thirds of the 227 passengers on board were Chinese and growing anger among their family members over Malaysia’s handling of the crisis exploded during a meeting with Malaysian officials at a Beijing hotel on Saturday.
Police were forced to intervene as relatives rushed towards the officials, demanding answers which they accuse the Malaysians of withholding.
“Government of Malaysia, tell us the truth! Give us back our loved ones!” they shouted.
After the police stepped in, the Malaysian officials left the room.
“We can’t bear it any longer,” one of the relatives said later.
“They’re offering us compensation but we’ve lost our entire families.”
Before he cut short his briefing in Kuala Lumpur, Hishammuddin promised to continue engaging with the families despite the growing tensions.
“I know this roller coaster has been incredibly hard for everyone, especially for the families,” he said.
MH370 dropped off civilian radar on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and two weeks later Malaysian investigators still believe it was “deliberately diverted” by someone on board.
Three scenarios have gained particular traction: hijacking, pilot sabotage, and a sudden mid-air crisis that incapacitated the flight crew and left the plane to fly on auto-pilot for several hours until it ran out of fuel and crashed.