Australian officials said on Sunday that a wooden cargo pallet along with belts or straps have been spotted in the remote Indian Ocean by one of the aircraft deployed in the hunt for a missing Malaysian jet.
The objects were seen by a civilian aircraft assisting in the search for Malaysia Airlines MH370 on Saturday, in what the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) confirmed was the “first visual sighting in the search so far”.
“Part of the description was a wooden pallet and a number of other items, which were nondescript, around it, and some belts of some different colours around it as well; strapping belts of different lengths,” said AMSA aircraft operations coordinator Mike Barton.
“We tried to re-find that yesterday (on Saturday), one of the New Zealand aircraft, and unfortunately they didn't find it. That's the nature of it—you only have to be off by a few hundred metres in a fast-travelling aircraft,” he told a press briefing.
Barton said Sunday's search, which would involved four military and four civilian aircraft, would return to the area to try and zero in on the objects again. Meanwhile, Malaysia said on Sunday it had received new satellite images from France showing floating objects in the search area for the missing jet in the southern Indian Ocean.
The images include “potential objects in the vicinity of the southern corridor”, said the Transport Ministry in a statement.
It added that the images had been passed on to Australian authorities who are coordinating the search for the plane, now focused on a remote stretch of ocean 2,500 km southwest of Perth.
Aviation experts had advised that wooden pallets were quite commonly used to pack goods in planes, added Barton, describing it as a “possible lead”.
Such pallets were usually packed into another container loaded into the belly of the aircraft he said, adding however that they were also used in the shipping industry.
He cautioned that the nearby straps “could be anything”, and “until we re-find these items and have a good look at them, it's hard to say whether they are associated with this or not”.
A “methodical search” would also continue of a 59,000-square-kilometre expanse of sea to try and locate large items.