Australia has sent four aircraft to investigate two objects spotted by satellite floating in the southern Indian Ocean that could be debris from a Malaysian jetliner missing with 239 people on board, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.
"New and credible information has come to light in relation to the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean," Abbott told the Australian parliament on Thursday.
No confirmed wreckage from the missing jet has been found, since it vanished from air traffic control screens off Malaysia's east coast early on March 8, less than an hour after taking off.
|A diagram showing the search area for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean [Reuters]
"The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has received information based on satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search," Abbott said.
"Following specialist analysis of this satellite imagery, two possible objects related to the search have been identified," he said.
In a news conference in Canberra, John Young, an Australian maritime official, said that one of the objects spotted could be as large as 24 metres, and the other one 5 meters.
"They are objects of a reasonable size and probably awash with water moving up and down over the surface," Young said.
There could be other objects in waters nearby in the area that's a four-hour flight from Australia's southwestern coast, he said. The area is roughly 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth.
Young also said visibility was poor and may hamper efforts to find the objects.
As of late Thursday, the Norwegian car carrier Hoegh St. Petersburg has already reached the area in the southern Indian Ocean off Australia where two floating objects were first spotted, according to the Reuters news agency.
The car carrier was on its way from Madagascar to Melbourne when it got a request from Australian authorities to assist in investigating the objects spotted by satellite four days ago, in one of the remotest parts of the globe.
Royal Australian Air Force Air Commodore John McGarry said the findings were "credible enough to divert the research to this area on the basis it provides a promising lead to what might be wreckage from the debris field".
Meanwhile, the Austrlian prime minister said he had already spoken with his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak and cautioned that the objects had yet to be identified, according to Reuters news agency.
|Analysis: Promising lead on missing Malaysian plane
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Tom Ballantyne, an aviation expert, said Abbott's announcement could be "the most promising" development since the plane disappeared.
"Although the word caution, I think, is the most important one here," he said from Sydney. "We've had so many false leads in this story, and we probably have to wait for several hours, before we get a real defining detail of what these objects are in the water."
Investigators believe that someone with detailed knowledge of both the Boeing 777-200ER and commercial aviation navigation switched off the plane's communications systems before diverting it thousands of miles off its scheduled course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Exhaustive background checks of the passengers and crew aboard have not yielded anything that might explain why.
The FBI is helping Malaysian authorities analyse data from a flight simulator belonging to the captain of the missing plane, after initial examination showed some data logs had been deleted early last month.
An unprecedented multinational search for the plane has focused on two vast search corridors: one arching from Laos towards the Caspian Sea, the other curving south across the Indian Ocean from west of Indonesia's Sumatra island to west of Australia.