The satellite images of ‘objects’ in the ocean that could solve Malaysia Airlines mystery
These are the images taken by satellite that today sparked a major search in the Indian Ocean for missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 and the 239 people who were on board.
Australia this morning set its focus on an area some 2,350 kilometres off the coast of Perth after satellites identified "objects" floating in the sea possibly related to the disappearance of the plane.
The largest object snapped by satellites passing over the Indian Ocean is believed to measure 24 metres, while a number of smaller objects were also seen, according to John Young, general manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's emergency response division.
It is believed they could be pieces of the missing Boeing 777.
Early Thursday afternoon, US broadcaster ABC said a US Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft searching in the Indian Ocean had also picked up radar signals of a large object in the same region indicated by the Australians.
The US aircraft's radar was getting "hits of significant size" and the crew were trying to get visuals on hits, reported ABC correspondent David Wright, who was on board the P-8 Poseidon. The plane's crew told Wright that the radar indicated "there is something down there."
JUST IN: @WrightUps from above Indian Ocean says US P-8 crew "getting radar hits of significant size;" trying to get visuals on hits.
— ABC News (@ABC) March 20, 2014
— David Wright (@WrightUps) March 20, 2014
“The objects are relatively indistinct on the images but those who are expert indicate they are credible sightings," John Young of Australia's AMSA told a press briefing after Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott notified parliament of the discovery.
Young said the first search aircraft had reached the area at about 1.50pm local time(10.50am HKT), while another three were on the way. An earlier statement by AMSA said a US Navy P8 Poseidon aircraft would also take part in Thursday's search operations.
Watch: Australia launches search after objects related to MH370 spotted
He described the objects spotted as "indistinct", adding they are "of a reasonable size and probably awash with water moving up and down over the surface".
Water in the search area is "several thousands metres deep", he said, adding that poor visibility in the area would hamper the search.
Sounding a note of caution over the scale of the search for the objects, he said it could be some days before authorities have anything to report.
"It’s probably the best lead we have right now but we have to get there, find them, see them, assess them, to know whether it’s really meaningful or not," he said.
Royal Australian Air Force Air Commodore John McGarry told a press conference the discovery of the objects was "credible enough to divert the research to this area on the basis it provides a promising lead to what might be wreckage from the debris field".
China was "paying close attention" to news of Australia's new discovery, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei as saying early Thursday afternoon.
"We expect the Australian side to quickly dispatch ships and aircraft to the region for search and identification," Hong said, adding that China has instructed its embassy and consulate staff in Australia to maintain close contact and assist in the Australian operation.
No confirmed wreckage from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has been found since it vanished from air traffic control screens off Malaysia’s east coast early on March 8, less than an hour after taking off.
Following the press briefing Malaysia said the discovery gave hopes of a resolution to the missing plane crisis.
Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said: "We have been very consistent. We want to verify, we want to corroborate."
Dozens of tired-looking family members of the missing passengers gathered at a hotel in Beijing anxiously watched the press conference live broadcast by CCTV, lingering long after it was over.
One man from Beijing whose aunt was on the flight said his moods had been like a rollercoaster since the plane went missing. He said news of the objects discovered had further dashed the relatives' hopes that their loved ones were still alive.
He said the tears had dried up during the tiring wait, but they still held out hope that the plane landed safely.
"We heard it was hijacking and we were pinning hopes that the plane did not crash and everybody was all right. There was no bad news and probably they would soon turn up, but now this has changed everything.
"We just wish that later today it is confirmed that the objects are not related to the flight," he said.
Tony Abbott earlier told the Australian parliament: "New and credible information has come to light in relation to the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean.
"The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has received information based on satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search."
"Following specialist analysis of this satellite imagery, two possible objects related to the search have been identified," he said.
Watch: Australia PM: two objects possibly related to MH370 spotted
Abbott said he had already spoken with his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak and cautioned that the objects had yet to be identified.
"The task of locating these objects will be extremely difficult and it may turn out they are not related to the search for MH370," he said.
The depth of the water where the possible debris has been sighted would likely make recovering the 'black box' voice and data recorders that may finally unlock the mystery of what happened aboard Flight MH370 extremely challenging.
University of Western Australia Professor of Oceanography Charitha Pattiaratchi said that, based on currents in the area, if the objects are debris from the plane, it probably would have gone into the water around 300 to 400 kilometres to the west.
The search area covers an ocean ridge known as Naturalist Plateau, a large sea shelf about 3,500 metres deep, Pattiaratchi said. The plateau is about 250 kilometres wide by 400 kilometres in length, and the area around it is close to 5,000 metres deep.
"Whichever way you go, it’s deep," he said.
Investigators believe that someone with detailed knowledge of both the Boeing 777-200ER and commercial aviation navigation switched off the plane’s communications systems before diverting it thousands of miles off its scheduled course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Exhaustive background checks of the passengers and crew aboard have not yielded anything that might explain why.
The FBI is helping Malaysian authorities analyse data from a flight simulator belonging to the captain of the missing plane, after initial examination showed some data logs had been deleted early last month.
Abbott said a search aircraft was due to arrive at the area where the objects were spotted at about the time he was speaking in parliament.
An unprecedented multinational search for the plane has focused on two vast search corridors: one arcing north overland from Laos towards the Caspian Sea, the other curving south across the Indian Ocean from west of Indonesia’s Sumatra island to west of Australia.
Australia is leading the search in the southern part of the southern corridor, with assistance from the US Navy.
Graphic: Click to enlarge