Chinese plane spots debris in Indian Ocean

(USA TODAY) -- A Chinese plane spotted "suspicious objects in the southern Indian Ocean" on Monday while searching for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and a separate Australian plane also spotted potential debris, said to be "circular" and "rectangular," boosting hopes that clues to the jet's fate may shortly be recovered.

However, rain and poor weather conditions were expected to slow the search in the area about 1,500 miles southwest of Perth and while the objects are giving fresh momentum in the search for the plane that went missing on March 8 with 239 people aboard over two weeks ago the objects were being treated as new leads rather than concrete evidence.

Malaysian transport minister said in his daily news conference that both objects sighted by Australia are orange in color and that the sighted objects may be recovered in as soon as a few hours.

The crew of the Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 plane saw the objects in an area that had been identified by satellite imagery as containing possible debris from the missing plane, China's state news agency Xinhua reported. The crew relayed the coordinates of the objects to the Australian command center and to a Chinese ship, the icebreaker Xuelong, which is on its way to the location.

China earlier released a satellite image captured Tuesday depicting an object located about 75 miles south of where an Australian satellite picked up an image of two objects a week ago.

A Xinhua correspondent aboard the IL-76 aircraft reports the crew spotted two large floating objects and several smaller, white objects scattered over several kilometers.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the search area was expanded from 22,800 to 26,400 square miles, including a new separate area based on data provided by France and made public Sunday.

The U.S. Pacific Command said it was sending a black box locator to the region in case a debris field is located. The Towed Pinger Locator has highly sensitive listening capability so that if the wreck site is located, it can hear the black box pinger to a depth of about 20,000 feet, Cmdr. Chris Budde, a U.S. 7th Fleet operations officer, said in a statement.

Two Chinese IL-76 planes joined the search, increasing the number of aircraft from eight on Sunday to 10, the Australian agency said.

Malaysia's Ministry of Transport said it received satellite images from French authorities "showing potential objects in the vicinity of the southern corridor." The images are from the southern Indian Ocean, where the hunt continues for the plane.

A Malaysian official involved in the search mission said the French data consisted of radar echoes captured Friday and converted into fuzzy images. One of the objects was estimated to be about 70 feet long and 40 feet wide.

The news of the French images came a day after China released a satellite image captured Tuesday depicting an object about the size of the one in the French data, located about 75 miles south of where an Australian satellite picked up an image of two objects a week ago.


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