Flight MH370: 'Objects spotted' in new search area

An image of one of the objects spotted by a New Zealand plane on Friday
Image caption This image of one the objects spotted was taken by a journalist on board the New Zealand plane

Five planes have spotted "objects" in the new area of the Indian Ocean being searched for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, Australian officials say.

The sightings would need confirmation by ship, possibly on Saturday, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa) said in a statement.

Earlier it was announced the search would now focus on an area 1,100km (700 miles) north-east of the previous zone.

The Beijing-bound airliner disappeared on 8 March with 239 people on board.

A Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion first spotted "a number of objects white or light in colour and a fishing buoy", Amsa said.

An Australian plane then went to relocate the items and spotted "two blue/grey rectangular objects", and three other planes reported similar sightings.

The Chinese patrol ship Haixun 01 is in the search area and will be despatched to relocate the objects on Saturday, Amsa said.

Earlier, the Australian and Malaysian governments said the focus on the new search area was based on further analysis of radar data that showed the plane had been travelling faster, thus burning more fuel.

This would reduce the possible distance the aircraft travelled south into the Indian Ocean, officials said.

Search efforts had until Friday morning focused on an area some 2,500km (1,550 miles) to the south-west of the Australian city of Perth.

Image copyright AP
Image caption A Malaysian delegation met relatives of those on board MH370 in Beijing
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Pearce airbase in western Australia has become a focus of the search

Malaysian officials have concluded that, based on satellite data, the missing plane flew into the sea somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean. So far no trace of it has been found.

Using satellite images, several nations have identified objects floating in the sea in that search area, but these have not been located and there is no evidence that they are related to the plane.

Acting Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the fact that the search area had moved did not discount the earlier satellite images of possible debris further south.

"Because of ocean drift, this new search area could still be consistent with the potential objects identified by various satellite images over the past week," Mr Hishammuddin said.

Vast expanse

Mystery still surrounds the fate of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, which vanished less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur.

The airliner veered off course and lost contact with air traffic controllers between Malaysian and Vietnamese air-traffic control areas.

The vast expanse of ocean has turned the search into a major challenge.

Some relatives of the flight's 153 Chinese passengers have refused to accept the Malaysian account of events and have accused officials of withholding information.

Earlier, China's state news agency Xinhua reported that Chinese insurance firms had begun to offer payouts to the relatives.

On Thursday, Malaysia Airlines took out a full-page condolence advertisement in the New Straits Times, saying: "Our sincerest condolences go out to the loved ones of the 239 passengers, friends and colleagues. Words alone cannot express our enormous sorrow and pain."