Military planes from Australia, the U.S. and New Zealand are searching for two objects spotted by satellite in the southern Indian Ocean that could be related to the missing Malaysia Airlines flight, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Thursday.
Abbott told Parliament in Canberra that an Orion and three additional aircraft, including a U.S. P-8 are involved in the search. Abbott cautioned, however, that the task of locating these objects will be difficult and "it may turn out that they are not related to the search for flight MH370."
John Young, manager of Australian Maritime Safety Authority's emergency response division, said the planes have been sent to check on the two objects spotted by satellite imagery. One of the objects was just short of 80 feet in length, while the other was 15 feet in length.
"This is a lead, it's probably the best lead we have right now," said Young, while cautioning that the objects could also be seaborne debris along a shipping route where containers can fall off cargo vessels, though the larger object was longer than a container.
Young told reporters, "We have been in this business of doing search and rescue and using sat images before and they do not always turn out to be related to the search even if they look good, so we will hold our views on that until they are sighted close-up."
Young said visibility was poor and may hamper efforts to find the objects. He said they "are relatively indistinct on the imagery ... but those who are experts indicate they are credible sightings. The indication to me is of objects that are a reasonable size and probably awash with water, moving up and down over the surface."
Military planes from Australia, the U.S. and New Zealand have been covering a search region over the southern Indian Ocean that was narrowed down on Wednesday from 232,000 square miles to 117,000 square miles.
Young said the depth of the ocean in the latest area, which is south from where the search had been focused since Monday, is several thousand yards. He said commercial satellites had been redirected in the hope of getting higher resolution images. He did not say when that would happen. The current images are not sharp enough to determine any markings.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority released two images of the whitish objects floating on or just under the surface. The images were taken March 16, but Australian Air Commodore John McGarry said it took time to analyze them.
"The task of analyzing imagery is quite difficult, it requires drawing down frames and going through frame by frame. The moment this imagery was discovered to reveal a possible object that might indicate a debris field, we have passed the information from defense across to AMSA for their action," he said.
Others said it was most likely not pieces of Flight 370. "The chances of it being debris from the airplane are probably small, and the chances of it being debris from other shipping are probably large,"Jason Middleton, an aviation professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, told The Associated Press.
The area where the debris was spotted is about halfway between Australia and desolate islands off the Antarctic.
Middleton also said the ocean to the west and south of Perth where the objects were spotted is notoriously stormy.
Selamat Bin Omar, a father of a passenger on the missing plane, said he could only wait for the results of the search and accept that fate.
"We do not yet know for sure whether this is indeed MH370 or something else," he said. "We are still waiting for further notice from the Australian government."
The hunt for the Boeing 777 has been punctuated by several false leads since it disappeared March 8 above the Gulf of Thailand.
Oil slicks that were spotted did not contain jet fuel. A yellow object thought to be from the plane turned out to be a piece of sea trash. Chinese satellite images showed possible plane debris, but nothing was found.
But this is the first time that possible objects have been spotted since the search area was massively expanded into two corridors, one stretching from northern Thailand into Central Asia and the other from the Strait of Malacca down to southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.
Abbott said he spoke to the prime minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, about the latest developments.
The latest revelation came as FBI and Malaysian investigators were working to retrieve files that were recently deleted from a home flight simulator belonging to a pilot on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in a hunt for clues as to where the plane headed after it changed course from its planned route to Beijing.
A source familiar with the ongoing investigation told Fox News on Wednesday that FBI agents are in Kuala Lumpur and Malaysian officials have asked them to assist in the data recovery efforts. Authorities also are looking to analyze the files in the context of other traffic on the pilot's computer.
The massive multinational search for the jetliner – which involves 26 countries -- expanded to the southern Indian Ocean Wednesday. The Pentagon said the Navy's P8 Poseidon search aircraft is participating in the effort. The area was assigned to the U.S. by Australian officials, but the Pentagon would not give further details.
Earlier in the day, Malaysia's defense minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said the plane's pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, is innocent until proven guilty of any wrongdoing. He added that members of his family are cooperating in the investigation.
Files containing records of simulations carried out on Shah's machine were deleted Feb. 3, Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu said.
The Telegraph, citing Malaysian police, reported that Shah played the popular games Flight Simulator X, Flight Simulator 9 and X-Plane 10.
Deleting files would not necessarily represent anything unusual, especially if it were to free up memory space, but investigators would want to check the files for any signs of unusual flight paths that could help explain where the missing plane went.
The plane, with 239 people on board, disappeared March 8 on a night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Malaysian authorities have not ruled out any possible explanations, but have said the evidence so far suggests the flight was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca. They are unsure what happened next.
Investigators have identified two giant arcs of territory spanning the possible positions of the plane about 7½ hours after takeoff, based on its last faint signal to a satellite. The arcs stretch up as far as Kazakhstan in central Asia and down deep into the southern Indian Ocean.
A source close to the investigation told Reuters that authorities believe the jetliner is likely in the southern corridor. "The working assumption is that it went south, and furthermore that it went to the southern end of that corridor," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
China has said it was reviewing radar data and deployed 21 satellites to search the northern corridor of the search area. But those searches so far have turned up no trace of the plane, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Wednesday.
Airline pilots and aviation safety experts told The Associated Press that an onboard computer called the flight management system would have to be deliberately programmed in order to follow the route taken by the plane as described by Malaysian authorities.
Fox News' Catherine Herridge, Justin Fishel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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