An air search in the southern Indian Ocean for possible objects from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has ended for the day without success but will resume in the morning, Australian rescue officials said.
Four planes were checking to see if two large objects spotted in satellite imagery bobbing in the remote ocean were debris from flight MH370 that disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board.
One of the objects was 24 metres in length and the other was 5 metres. There could be other objects in the area, a four-hour flight from Australia's southwestern coast, said John Young, manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's emergency response division.
This is a lead, it's probably the best lead we have right now.
"This is a lead, it's probably the best lead we have right now," Young said.
He cautioned that the objects could be seaborne debris along a shipping route where containers can fall off cargo vessels, although the larger object is longer than a container the AP news agency reported.
A statement from the authority said the four planes searched an area of 23,000 km/sq about 2,500km southwest of Perth on Thursday without success.
"The search will continue on Friday," it said.
News that possible plane parts had been found marked a new phase in the emotional roller coaster for distraught relatives of the passengers, who have criticised Malaysia harshly for not releasing timely information about the plane.
While they still hope their loved ones will somehow be found, they acknowledged that news of the possible debris could mean the plane plunged into the ocean.
"If it turns out that it is truly MH370 then we will accept that fate," said Selamat Bin Omar, the father of a Malaysian passenger on the jet, which carried mostly Chinese and Malaysian nationals.
But he cautioned that relatives still did not yet know for sure whether this was indeed MH370 or something else.
"Therefore we are still waiting for further notice from the Australian government." Bin Omar added.
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 metres.
The area where the debris was spotted is about halfway between Australia and desolate islands off the Antarctic.
Malaysian authorities have not ruled out any possible explanation, but have said the evidence so far suggests the plane was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca, with its communications systems disabled.
They are unsure what happened next. A group of Malaysian government and airline officials also flew to Beijing on Thursday night to meet families there.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 meters.
He said it may be difficult to spot the objects as 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." Young said.