Sightings boost search for missing Malaysia plane

Sightings boost search for missing Malaysia plane
A Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion takes off at RAAF Pearce Base to join the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in Perth on March 23, 2014. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said there was "increasing hope" of finding missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, after a plane spotted unidentified debris including a wooden pallet in the Indian Ocean search site.

PERTH, Australia - The sighting of a wooden pallet and other debris that may be linked to a Malaysian passenger jet raised hopes Sunday of a breakthrough in the international search for the missing plane.

The sense that the hunt was finally on the right track after more than two weeks of false leads and dead ends was reinforced by new French satellite data indicating floating objects in the southern search area.

Australian officials said the pallet, along with belts or straps, was spotted Saturday in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean that has become the focus of the search - around 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth.

"It's still too early to be definite," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters during a visit to Papua New Guinea.

"But obviously we have now had a number of very credible leads and there is increasing hope - no more than hope, no more than hope - that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen to this ill-fated aircraft."

Australian and Chinese satellite images have picked up large objects floating in the inhospitable region, and Malaysia's transport ministry said Sunday that France had provided similar data "in the vicinity of the southern corridor".

The Malaysian statement gave no details of the French satellite data.

But France's foreign ministry said it came in the form of satellite-generated radar echoes, which contains information about the location and distance of the object which bounces a signal back.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) confirmed that the pallet and other debris marked the "first visual sighting" since Australian, New Zealand and US spotter planes began scouring the area on Thursday.

Wooden pallets are quite common in aircraft and ship cargo holds.

The objects were spotted by observers on one of the civilian aircraft taking part in the search.

An air force P3 Orion aircraft with specialist electro-optic observation equipment was diverted to the same location, but only reported sighting clumps of seaweed.

"That's the nature of it," AMSA aircraft operations coordinator Mike Barton said.

"You only have to be off by a few hundred metres in a fast-travelling aircraft."

Sunday's search involving four military and four civilian aircraft plus an Australian warship ended with "no sightings of significance" but would resume Monday, AMSA said.

Sunday's search covered 59,000 square km (23,600 sq miles).

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