Kuala Lumpur: An Australian navy ship was today close to retrieving several objects spotted in remote southern Indian Ocean by the international team hunting for the Malaysian jetliner, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the frustrating search for the plane that went missing 17 days back.
Australian and Chinese planes reported seeing several objects floating about 2,500km south-west of Perth.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said two objects — the first grey or green and circular and the second orange and rectangular — located by an Australian P3 Orion aircraft in the area.
A Chinese Ilyushin-76 plane reported spotting “white and square” objects in the same location.
The Australian Premier said it was not known whether the objects were from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, and could be flotsam.
The HMAS Success ship is in the area and attempting to recover the objects, he said.
Abbott said a US Navy Poseidon, a second Royal Australian Orion and a Japanese Orion are also en route to the search area where new objects were located from air. Chinese Icebreaker Xue Long is also heading towards the area.
“I caution again … that we don’t know whether any of these objects are from MH370, they could be flotsam,” he said.
“Nevertheless we are hopeful that we can recover these objects soon and they will take us a step closer to resolving this tragic mystery,” he added.
However, none of the sighted objects have so far been firmly linked to Flight MH370, which disappeared more than two weeks ago over Southeast Asia with 239 people, including five Indians and an Indo-Canadian on board.
Malaysia also confirmed the news with Prime Minister Najib Razak tweeting, “Just received a call from Australian PM @tonyabbott -2 objects were located & will be retrieved in the next few hours.”
Malaysian Defence and Transport Minister Hishamuddin Hussein two unidentified orange objects and a white drum had been sighted but had no other details.
Emphasising that search for the Boeing 777-200 will continue, Hishamuddin said 18,500 sq nautical metres had been searched so far and the Air France crash team was working closely with Malaysia.
He said police have interviewed more than 100 people, including families of both the pilot and the co-pilot. “As far as the transcript is concerned, the technical committee is considering releasing it,” Hishamuddin said on being asked about the final communication between the pilot and the Air Traffic Control.
He also said that MH370 was carrying wooden pallets. However, there is as yet no evidence that these are related to the wooden pallet reportedly sighted in the Australian search area on Sunday.
MH370’s co-pilot was on his first Boeing 777 flight without a minder, Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said.
Meanwhile, the US Navy has ordered the Pacific Fleet to move one of its high-tech black box locator into the region where search for the missing jet is underway.
The TPL-25 system is able to locate black boxes of downed aircraft “down to a maximum depth of 20,000 feet (6 km) anywhere in the world”, it said in a statement. China is sending more ships to the area, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in Beijing.
Haixun 01, which is China’s biggest rescue ship and Nanhaijiu 101 are approaching the southern Indian Ocean and three Chinese naval ships, including an amphibious transport dock (Kunlunshan), supply ship Qiandaohu and missile destroyer Haikou, are also heading for the waters, according to Hong.
Though there is little doubt that the Boeing 777-200 has plunged deep in the remote parts of the ocean off Australia, what has baffled aviation authorities is that no trace of the plane has been found despite putting into use hi-tech surveillance systems.
Based on information received from satellites, the search has been in two distinct corridors – one stretching to the north-west of the last known location in the Malacca Straits and one to the south-west.
Since none of the countries on the northern corridor have reported any radar contact with the missing plane or satellite images, the search for possible debris has been concentrated in the southern Indian Ocean.