Malaysia flight MH370: China planes boost Indian Ocean hunt

Alastair Leithead reports on the announcement of a possible debris sighting from China

Two Chinese military planes have arrived in Perth in Australia to join international search operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.

Crews are scouring vast areas of the southern Indian Ocean for a fourth day.

Satellite images of floating objects and the sighting of a wooden pallet on Saturday have raised hopes that the airliner may be in the area.

China had criticised Malaysia for its handling of the search. Most of the 239 people on board were Chinese.

Malaysian officials suspect the plane, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was deliberately taken off course when it disappeared on 8 March.

Two Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft on the tarmac at RAAF Pearce base ready to join the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 22/03/2014 The two Chinese planes will join six other jets in the search team
A crew member on board a Japanese P3C patrol plane waves in Subang, Malaysia, Sunday, March 23 A Japanese military plane left Malaysia for Australia on Sunday
Crew members on board a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion scan for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean on March 22 Crews had another day of fruitless searching on Saturday

The two Chinese aircraft have flown in from Malaysia, where they were helping with the search further north.

Australian officials said the Chinese crews would set themselves up on Sunday and join the search on Monday.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the sightings of objects were encouraging signs.

"Obviously we have now had a number of very credible leads and there is increasing hope - no more than hope, no more than hope - that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen to this ill-fated aircraft," he said.

Members of the Brazilian Frigate Constituicao recovering debris in June 2009

John Young of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa), which is overseeing the search, said in a news conference that China "clearly has an intense interest in this operation".

He said as well as the two planes, China was also sending its polar research ship Xue Long, which was last involved in a major incident when it helped free a Russian ship from Antarctic ice in January.

The Australian navy's HMAS Success is the only ship currently involved in the mission.

Six planes flew out from Perth early on Sunday to continue their search.

Mr Young said he believed that, if the Malaysia Airlines plane did take the southern corridor, the search teams were focusing on the right area.

However, there has still been no confirmed sighting of the objects picked up by satellites in recent days.

China on Saturday released a satellite image showing an object floating in the southern Indian Ocean near to the area already being searched, some 2,500 km (1,550 miles) south-west of Perth.

The grainy image was released by China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.

The find was announced by Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein amid a routine briefing in Kuala Lumpur.

The Xinhua state news agency said the latest satellite image was taken at about 04:00 GMT on 18 March and showed objects about 120km "south by west" from the first site.

Other satellite images of possible aircraft debris in a nearby area were released earlier in the week.

Map showing search area for MH370

At his briefing, Acting Transport Minister Hussein also said investigations of the plane's cargo manifest did "not show any link to anything that may have contribution to the plane's disappearance".

He also referred to the angry scenes as Malaysian officials briefed Chinese relatives in Beijing.

"Government of Malaysia, tell us the truth - give us back our loved ones," relatives shouted at the Lido Hotel.

Mr Hussein admitted the briefing had been "tense" and an investigation was under way to try to improve the situation.

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.

The locations were based on a data "ping" apparently sent to a satellite from the missing plane hours after it vanished from other indicators.

However, on Saturday, Mr Hussein said that China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar (Burma) and several other nations had informed Malaysia that analysis of their radar records had revealed no evidence of flight MH370 crossing their airspace.

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