Australia leads search of Indian Ocean for missing plane

March 20, 2014 at 1:37 PM
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PERTH, Australia, March 20 (UPI) -- An Australian-led search using planes and ships Thursday combed an area of the Indian Ocean for traces of a missing Malaysian Airlines plane.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority agency said the search was suspended for the night without finding anything conclusive, the Malaysian Bernama news agency reported. Flight MH370, which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board, has now been missing for nearly two weeks.

Five aircraft, three from the Australian air force, one from New Zealand and one from U.S. Navy, combed thousands of square miles of ocean southwest of Perth. The Australia said six merchant ships have assisted the search since a call was issued Monday and a navy vessel is on its way to the area.

The search shifted to waters near Australia after possible debris was spotted. Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament he could offer no guarantee the items spotted were debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, missing since March 8, but the information was "credible," the Wall Street Journal reported.

"New and credible information has come to light in relation to the search," Abbott said.

The apparent sighting is the strongest lead yet in a multinational search for the Boeing 777-200 carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members that disappeared nearly two weeks ago about an hour after it departed for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A week ago, search crews found nothing after investigating objects identified in the South China Sea by a Chinese satellite and an investigation determined oil slicks spotted near Vietnam were from ships in the area.

Australia began the search in the southern Indian Ocean after satellite images indicated objects that could be debris from Flight 370 and Abbott informed Malaysia's prime minister, the Journal said.

"It must be stressed that these sightings, while credible, are still to be confirmed," Hishamuddin Hussein, Malaysia's acting transport minister and defense minister, said during Thursday's briefing. "Every effort is being made to locate the objects" seen by the satellites.

"You know how huge the area is," Hishamuddin said. "We want to verify and we want to corroborate."

The larger of the two objects spotted is believed to be as big as 24 meters (nearly 79 feet) long, John Young, a maritime authority official, told reporters.

Meanwhile, Malaysia investigators were working with the FBI agents from the United States to analyze and recover data deleted from a flight simulator removed from the home of the missing flight's pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the Journal said.

Malaysian officials determined that "deliberate action" was to blame for the disappearance of the flight and police stepped up their investigations of the pilot and co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid. Neither man, nor anyone else on the plane, was accused of wrongdoing.

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