The area where Chinese satellite images show what might be debris from the missing Malaysian jetliner has been thoroughly searched in recent days, Vietnam said on Thursday as Malaysia urged caution over the findings.
The hunt for the Boeing 777 has been punctuated by false leads since it disappeared with 239 people aboard just hours after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday. The plane was heading east over the South China Sea when it disappeared, but authorities believe it may have turned back and headed into the upper reaches of the Strait and Malacca or beyond.
The Chinese sighting of possible debris is not far from where the last confirmed position of the plane was in between Malaysia and Vietnam. The images and coordinates were posted on the website of China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.
A Xinhua report said the images from around 11 a.m. on Sunday appear to show ”three suspected floating objects” of varying sizes in a 20-kilometer radius, the largest about 24-by-22 meters (79-by-72 feet) off the southern tip of Vietnam.
Pham Quy Tieu, deputy transport minister, told The Associated Press that the area had been ”searched thoroughly” by forces from other countries over the past few days. Doan Huu Gia, chief of air search and rescue coordination center, said Malaysian and Singaporean aircraft were scheduled to visit area again Thursday.
Malaysia’s civil aviation chief, Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said Malaysia had not been officially informed by China about the images, something he said was a ”a breach of protocol”. He said if Beijing informs them of the coordinates, Malaysia would dispatch vessels and planes.
Until then, he urged caution, noting that the general area had been searched several times and the images were taken on Sunday. ”There have been lots of reports of suspected debris,” he said.
A Malaysian military attache in Hanoi told Vietnamese search authorities on Thursday that two ships and two aircraft had been dispatched to the area.
Li Jiaxiang, chief of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said later China had yet to confirm any link between the floating objects and the plane.
Malaysia has come under some criticism for its handling of the search, which currently covers 35,800 square miles (92,600 square kilometers) and involves 12 nations, including the United States and Japan.