Melbourne/Kuala Lumpur, Mar 20 (PTI): Australian military-led search aircraft were dispatched on Thursday to check whether two objects spotted in the Indian Ocean were the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared mid-flight on March 8 with 239 people on board.
Australian officials said satellite imagery showed the objects -- one as large as 24 meters long -- were around 2,500 km southwest of Perth and appeared to be awash over water several thousand metres deep.
”It's probably the best lead we have right now,” said Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) official John Young, but cautioned that the objects could also be debris as containers periodically fall off cargo vessels.
Military jets and ships from Australia, New Zealand and the US were heading to the area to search for the objects, as the multinational search operations entered 13th day today.
A merchant ship was expected to arrive in the vicinity soon with Australian naval vessel HMAS Success, which is capable of retrieving the objects.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament that he called his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak to relay the “new and credible information” about potential aircraft wreckage.
Search teams involving 26 countries are still trying to locate flight MH370, which went missing an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8 with 239 people on board, including five Indians and one Indian-Canadian.
”The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has received the information based on satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search,” Abbott said, adding that after specialist analysis of this satellite imagery, two possible objects related to the search have been identified.
Abbott said an Australian Air Force Orion has been sent to locate the objects and three more aircraft will follow this Orion. “They are tasked for more intensive follow up search.”
”The task of locating these objects will be extremely difficult...and it may be they do not relate to the aircraft,” he told parliament.
Young said, “the objects are relatively indistinct. Those who are expert say they are credible sightings.” He said the poor weather is hampering the search at the moment.
In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said, “I can confirm we have a new lead.”
“Prime Minister Najib Razak had received a call from Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia, informing him that 'two possible objects related to the search' for MH370 had been identified in the Southern Indian Ocean.
”At this stage, Australian officials have yet to establish whether these objects are indeed related to the search for MH370,” said a statement issued by Hussein.
Experts have earlier speculated that the southern maritime corridor is the most likely location for the missing aircraft, pointing out the unlikelihood of the plane passing undetected over nearly a dozen countries.
The mystery of the missing plane continued to baffle aviation and security authorities, who have so far not succeeded in tracking the aircraft despite deploying hi-tech radar and other gadgets.
The search for the plane has witnessed several false leads since it disappeared above the Gulf of Thailand.
Australia has been heading the search along a southern arc stretching from the Indonesian coast to the west of Australia.
AMSA has said the search zone covers 600,000 square kilometres of ocean and has been plotted using data based on the last satellite relay signals sent by the plane.
The search now encompasses an area stretching 7.7 million square kilometres - an area larger than the entire land mass of Australia.
Meanwhile, the FBI has also joined the Malaysian authorities in analysing deleted data on a flight simulator belonging to the pilot of the missing jet.
Files containing records of flight simulations were deleted on February 3 from the device found in the home of the pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, police chief Khalid Abu had said.
Authorities had earlier dismantled the simulator and reassembled it to analyse its data, hoping to find something that could give insight into the disappearance of Flight MH370.