A Chinese plane spotted "some suspicious objects" in the broad area where satellite images have indicated possible debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but a high-tech U.S. military search plane which responded to the area Monday was able to find nothing.
Hours later, officials said the crew of an Australian Air Force plane had seen two objects floating elsewhere in the Indian Ocean search area.
"Objects have been located by a Royal Australian Air Force P3 Orion," said a written statement from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). The statement said an Australian military ship "is on scene and is attempting to locate the objects," described as "a grey or green circular object and the second an orange rectangular object."
Earlier Monday, China's state-run Xinhua news agency first reported that the Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft's crew had spotted two objects -- said to be "relatively big" and scattered over about two square miles of sea -- and communicated their location to the Australian command center leading the Indian Ocean search, and to a Chinese ice breaker ship en route to the area.
Speaking to the Reuters news agency several hours later, an AMSA spokesperson said a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft was sent to investigate the Chinese reports, but the "P-8 was unable to relocate the reported objects."
According to AMSA, the items seen by the Australian flight crew were "separate to the objects reported by the Chinese Ilyushin."
Planes and ships search in southern Indian Ocean for possible objects from missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner
Both flight crews reported seeing objects in the remote patch of ocean, about 1,500 miles southwest of Australia's west coast, where large pieces of possible debris from the Boeing 777 have been seen on satellite images. Search planes have scanned the area for days without any luck locating the floating objects.
Rain was expected to hamper the hunt Monday for debris suspected of being from the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, as the United States prepared to move a specialized device that can locate black boxes into the south Indian Ocean region.
The U.S. Pacific command said it was sending a black box locator in case a debris field is located. The Towed Pinger Locator, which is pulled behind a vessel at slow speeds, has highly sensitive listening capability so that if the wreck site is located, it can hear the black box pinger down to a depth of about 20,000 feet, Cmdr. Chris Budde, a U.S. Seventh Fleet operations officer, said in a statement.
"This movement is simply a prudent effort to preposition equipment and trained personnel closer to the search area so that if debris is found we will be able to respond as quickly as possible since the battery life of the black box's pinger is limited," Budde said.
There was no sign the move was because of any break in the mystery of the plane that went missing March 8 with 239 people on board, but rather as a preparation.
Australian Maritime Safety Authority's rescue coordination center said the search area was expanded from 22,800 to 26,400 square miles and that two Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 planes had joined the search from Perth, increasing the number of aircraft to 10 from eight a day earlier. It was one of those Ilyushins which reported the "suspicious objects" later Monday morning.
It said the weather in the search area, about 1,550 miles southwest of Perth, was expected to deteriorate with rain likely.
Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss said "nothing of note" was found Sunday, which he described as a "fruitless day."
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"It's going to be a challenge, but we'll stick at it," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio before the first aircraft left Perth at dawn. "We're just, I guess, clutching at whatever little piece of information comes along to try and find a place where we might be able to concentrate the efforts."
A cyclone bearing down on the Australian northwest coast "could stir up less favorable weather," he said.
Flight 370 disappeared while en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, setting off a multinational search that has turned up no confirmed pieces and nothing conclusive on what happened to the jet.