Planes and a ship scrambled on Sunday to find a pallet and other debris in a remote patch of the southern Indian Ocean to determine whether the objects were from the Malaysia Airlines jet that has been missing for more than two weeks.
The pallet was spotted by a search plane on Saturday, but has not been closely examined. Wooden pallets are commonly used in shipping, but can also be used on planes.
It is the latest in a series of clues experts and searchers are trying to run down to solve the mystery of what happened to Flight 370 when it disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board.
Mike Barton, chief of Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s rescue coordination center, told reporters in Canberra, Australia, that the wooden pallet spotted by a civilian search aircraft was surrounded by several other nondescript objects, including what appeared to be strapping belts of different colors and lengths.
It was not immediately known if any pallets were used on Flight 370.
A New Zealand Orion P3 plane tried to find it, but failed, Barton said.
“So, we’ve gone back to that area again today to try and re-find it,” he said. A merchant ship also was sent to try to identify the material.
“We went to some of the expert airlines and the use of wooden pallets is quite common in the industry,” Barton said. “They’re usually packed into another container which is loaded in the belly of the aircraft…. It’s a possible lead, but we will need to be very certain that this is a pallet because pallets are used in the shipping industry as well,” he said.
Search planes — eight of them were in the air Sunday — are scouring an area about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, Australia. Satellite images, the most recent released by China on Saturday, have showed large objects floating in the area that experts want to check to see if they came from the jetliner.
Air and sea searches since Thursday have not produced any results.
John Young, manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s emergency response division, said Sunday’s search was mainly relying on human eyes.
“Today is really a visual search again, and visual searches take some time. They can be difficult,” he said.
Barton said while the weather was not as good at the start of the day with sea fog and low cloud, it was clearing up later Sunday.
Despite the frustrating lack of answers, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was upbeat.
“Obviously we have now had a number of very credible leads continued…