Beijing beefs up hunt for MH370

Beijing beefs up hunt for MH370
Chinese Antarctic research icebreaker Xue Long prepares to depart Fremantle Habour on March 21, 2014.

Five Chinese naval ships and three helicopters have been redirected to the southern Indian Ocean to help in the search for two large objects spotted by satellite that may be related to the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner.

The ships were originally heading to western Indonesia and the Bay of Bengal, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a news conference on Friday.

China's Antarctic research icebreaker, Xuelong, arrived in the Australian city of Perth on Friday and is expected to reach the new search area in four days. Nine emergency teams have been set up on the vessel.

Three Chinese air force planes have been sent to a Malaysian air base to help with the search, People's Liberation Army air force spokesman Shen Jinke said on Friday.

Under the command of the Central Military Commission, the aircraft, two IL-76 transport planes and a Yun-8 cargo plane, scrambled from an airport in Sanya, Hainan province, at about 8 am on Friday.

Shen said the mission was decided under arrangements made by China's marine salvage authority and Malaysian authorities. To date, the Chinese air force has sent seven planes to help with the search.

The PLA air force has set up a command team to direct Chinese planes' rescue operations, Shen said.

Hong confirmed that Malaysian Airlines flight 370 did not reach Chinese territory. Kazakhstan also said it had not found any trace of the plane.

Hong said the extraordinary difficulties in locating the aircraft, and the huge input from countries around the world, are extremely rare in global aviation history.

Australian authorities said on Friday they will continue to search for the two objects spotted by satellite, as they are the best lead so far.

Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, warned that the objects might only be containers that had fallen off ships, but said his country will do everything to locate them.

One of the objects, located about 2,500 km southwest of Perth, is about 24 meters long. The search for the objects started on Thursday but no sightings had been made by Friday.

The missing Boeing 777-200 carrying 239 passengers and crew, including 154 Chinese, disappeared from radar screens on March 8 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, to Beijing.

Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysian minister of defence and acting minister of transport, said during a routine news briefing in Kuala Lumpur that the most sophisticated machinery in the world has been involved in the search in the southern Indian Ocean. "If it cannot narrow the search area, I don't know what can."

Hishammuddin said he would talk to US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel on Friday night to ask for further specialist equipment to help with the search and rescue efforts, including remotely operated vehicles for deep-ocean salvage.

Retired Malaysian Navy first admiral H.J. Mohamad Imran said the chances of finding the objects is very slim, as the area shown by the satellite imagery is too big and they might have been drifting away from the original location.

"It might take a long time, I mean years, to find them or they may never be located," he said. "It is an unprecedented incident and our navy doesn't have the experience."

He also thinks there is a high chance that the objects could be containers. "Debris from the plane wouldn't float for such a long time," he said.

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