Chinese planes join search
International effort: Chinese Il-76 planes at RAAF Pearce. Picture: Reuters

Chinese search planes will fly out of Perth this morning to join the ballooning international effort to locate Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, as sightings of more debris in the search zone increased hope of a breakthrough.

Tony Abbott announced yesterday that an Australian search plane spotted small pieces of debris, including a cargo pallet in the southern Indian Ocean.

"One of our civilian search aircraft got visuals of a number of objects in a fairly small area in the overall Australian search zone," the Prime Minister said.

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

Satellite images from France are also believed to have shown debris in the main search area.

Flight MH370, which disappeared with 239 passengers and crew 16 days ago, was carrying fruit loaded on to pallets.

On Saturday, China released a low-resolution satellite image of a 22.5m by 13mobject, taken on March 18, just 120km from two possible objects detected by satellite on March 16, about 2500km south-west of Perth.

More planes have been called in to help search. Yesterday, there were nine sorties to the search zone, including by a 110-seat Airbus A319 usually used by Australia's Antarctic Division.

Australian authorities have asked the US to send a giant KC-10 aerial refuelling tanker to service a US Navy P8 Poseidon, at least quadrupling the time it can spend in the search area.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority reiterated yesterday that the search was challenging and it continued to hold grave fears for the passengers and crew aboard the missing flight.

AMSA used the new Chinese satellite image to develop yesterday's search pattern area of 59,000sqkm.

Investigators have virtually eliminated a problem with the Boeing 777 as a crash cause, saying the flight was "deliberately diverted" by someone aboard.

The most "plausible" explanation is that the pilots, Capt. Zaharie Shah Ahmed, 53, and his co- pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, are responsible - together or alone.

Reports emerged yesterday that a mystery woman called the captain before take-off. He reportedly took a two-minute phone call from the woman using a mobile phone number obtained under a false identity.

Late last week, foreign intelligence agencies completed a second round of vetting of passengers, including two Iranians travelling on false passports, and cleared them all. Only a Russian passenger - not believed to be suspect - remained to be vetted.

with agencies

The West Australian

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