Potential leads on the missing Malaysian jetliner keep coming. So do the setbacks and frustrations.
Four orange objects spotted by aircraft searching for the plane in the treacherous Indian Ocean turned out to be fishing equipment, Australian officials said Monday.
Flight Lt. Russell Adams had described the objects found Sunday as the "most promising leads."
But on further analysis, they turned out to be fishing equipment, once again dashing hopes of finding the jetliner that vanished March 8.
"We are searching a vast area of ocean, and we are working on quite limited information," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters Monday. "Nevertheless, the best brains in the world are applying themselves to this task. ... If this mystery is solvable, we will solve it."
The area of the search is 254,000 square kilometers (98,069 miles) that 10 planes and 11 ships were searching Monday. It's the most vessels to comb the search area so far.
Search crews from various nations have found an array of potential leads, only to later shoot down any links to the missing plane. They've included dead jelly fish and other garbage floating in the southern Indian Ocean.
Race against time
With every passing minute, it becomes harder to find the flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders. Batteries on the "pinger" - the beacon that sends a signal from recorders - are designed to last about 30 days.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared 23 days ago en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
An Australian ship fitted with a U.S. ping detector is set to join the search Monday in a desperate race against time.
The focus is on helping find the flight recorders. Find the pinger and you find the recorders. Find the recorders, experts say, and you are steps closer to solving the mystery of Flight 370. Flight data recorders capture a wide array of information, including altitudes, air speeds and engine temperatures.
Crews loaded an American pinger locator and undersea search equipment onto the Ocean Shield, an offshore support vessel of the Australian navy. The ship was originally set to depart Monday morning, but authorities said it would be delayed by several hours for an inspection.
It will take the ship up to three days to reach the search area.
But that's just one of the many hurdles.
Oceanographer Erik Van Sebille weighs in on the possibility of finding the data recorder for Flight 370.
WATCH FULL CLIP ABOVE
Nearly three weeks after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the focus of the hunt for the missing passenger jet has moved yet again.
Search teams have shifted to a different part of the southern Indian Ocean after Australian authorities said they received "a new credible lead" about the jetliner's most likely last movements.
An analysis of radar data led investigators to move the search to an area 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the northeast of where efforts had been focused previously, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said Friday.
It described the new information, which indicated the errant jetliner didn't fly as far south as previously thought, as "the most credible lead to where debris may be located."
That means the huge, isolated areas of the ocean that ships and planes had combed for more than a week - and where various satellites detected objects that might be debris from the missing plane - are no longer of interest.
"We have moved on from those search areas," said John Young, general manager of emergency response for the Australian maritime authority.
The new search area is "considerable" and conditions there "remain challenging," acting Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters Friday.
The sudden change of geographic focus is the latest twist in an investigation that has so far failed to establish why Flight 370 flew dramatically off course or exactly where the plane and the 239 people it was carrying ended up.
"To me, it's not a game changer, it's a reset," David Gallo of theWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution said of the shifted search.
'We have not seen any debris'
Australian officials also played down the significance of hundreds of possible objects detected by satellites in the previous search region, some of which had been described by authorities as important leads.
"In regards to the old areas, we have not seen any debris," Young said at a news briefing in Canberra, the Australian capital. "And I would not wish to classify any of the satellite imagery as debris, nor would I want to classify any of the few visual sightings that we made as debris. That's just not justifiable from what we have seen."
Officials had repeatedly cautioned that the objects seen in the satellite imagery could just be flotsam that had fallen off cargo ships.
But Hishammuddin said the new search area "could still be consistent" with the idea that materials spotted in recent satellite photos over the previous search area are connected to the plane. The materials could have drifted in ocean currents, he said.
Some analysts raised their eyebrows at the search coordinators' readiness to move away from the satellite sightings.
"Really? That much debris and we're not going to have a look at it to see what that stuff might be?" said Gallo, who helped lead the search for the flight recorders of Air France Flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.
Others lamented the amount of time, money and resources that were spent sending planes and ships out to the now discounted areas for more than a week.
"This is time that has been wasted, there's no question," said CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien.
But Young disputed that suggestion, saying the previous searches were based on the information authorities "had at the time."
"That's nothing unusual for search and rescue operations," he said "And this actually happens to us all the time - that new information may arise out of sequence with the search itself."
A son of the pilot of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has defended his father, rejecting speculation about his possible role in the plane's disappearance.
"I've read everything online. But I've ignored all the speculation. I know my father better," Ahmad Seth Zaharie, 26, said in an interview published Thursday by the New Straits Times. He is the youngest son of the 53-year-old pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah.
Investigators have so far been unable to establish why the passenger jet flew far off course on the night it vanished from radar screens almost three weeks ago.
Malaysian authorities say the jetliner and the 239 people it was carrying ended up in the southern Indian Ocean, where a multinational search is trying to locate traces of the plane.
The search efforts were severely hampered by bad weather Thursday, while Thai authorities reported detecting hundreds more objects that could be related to the plane in satellite images.
'I understand him'
The pilot and first officer of the plane have come under particular scrutiny, with a range of speculative theories proffered for why one or both of them might have diverted it from its scheduled flight path to Beijing.
Some of the wilder speculation suggested Zaharie might have hijacked the plane as a political act.
"We may not be as close as he travels so much. But I understand him," Ahmad said of his father in the interview, which was conducted Tuesday.
Ahmad is the first member of the Zaharie's close family to speak publicly to the news media about the plane's disappearance.
No 'smoking gun'
Comments from government officials on the investigation so far support the young man's view.
A senior Malaysian government official on Wednesday told CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes that authorities have found nothing negative in 19 days of investigating the two pilots that leads them to any motive, be it political, suicidal or extremist.
And an ongoing FBI review of the two pilots' hard drives, including Zaharie's flight simulator, has not turned up a "smoking gun," a U.S. official with knowledge of the investigation told CNN.
"They have accessed the data," the official said. "There is nothing that's jumping out and grabbing us right now."
Officials have so far not reported anything suspicious in their investigations into the 10 other crew members and 227 passengers on board the plane.
American investigators continue to be baffled by the plane's disappearance, with one U.S. official saying, "I don't think there is a prevailing theory. There are counterarguments to every theory right now."
Air search halted
With little sign of progress in the investigation on land, search efforts at sea were hampered Thursday by another bout of bad weather.
The conditions brought an early end to the day's aerial search for the plane in the southern Indian Ocean, but five ships in the area are trying to keep up the hunt for debris despite the difficult conditions.
All the planes that had flown out to the search zone are returning to Perth, the western Australian city where they set out from, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said. It initially reported that the ships were leaving the search area, too, but later said they would stay.
The search teams that have been out over the remote area of ocean Thursday have been "beaten up," said Lt. Comm. Adam Schantz of the U.S. Navy.
The visibility is almost zero, with clouds reaching down to the surface of the water, as well as severe turbulence and icing, he said.
"It's very cold," said Capt. Allison Norris, who is in charge of the HMAS Success, the Australian navy ship in the search area. "We rotate the lookouts through every hour and make sure that they are appropriately dressed to combat the very cold conditions down here."
Early Thursday afternoon, more than 60% of the search area was experiencing a mixture of low visibility, strong thunderstorms and powerful winds, said CNN International Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.
Hopes of resuming
Flight crews hope to be back in the air Friday if the weather clears, Schantz said. But the Australian maritime agency said it expects conditions to remain bad for another 24 hours.
This is the second time this week that operations have been hampered by harsh conditions in the isolated patch of ocean roughly 1,500 miles southwest of Perth. No search missions took place on Tuesday because of stormy weather.
The delay is likely to prolong an already protracted hunt for the missing Boeing 777, which disappeared March 8 over Southeast Asia with 239 people on board.
Citing an analysis of satellite data, Malaysian authorities say the plane ended its errant journey in the southern Indian Ocean. But they still haven't been able to establish why it lost contact with air traffic control and flew so far off course.
The suspension of the aerial search dims hopes that the teams might soon be able to pinpoint objects spotted in satellite images of the ocean captured over the past two weeks.
On Wednesday, Malaysia said it had received satellite images showing 122 potential objects floating in the ocean, not far from other satellite sightings that could be related to the missing passenger jet.
Adding to the list, a Thai satellite spotted 300 "pieces of floating objects potentially linked" to the missing plane in broadly the same region of the southern Indian Ocean, a Thai official said Thursday.
The Thai satellite captured the images on Monday, but it took several days to process them and pass them on to the Malaysian government, said Kampanart Deeudomchan, an official at Thailand's Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency.
Analysts have said the detection of possible objects is an encouraging sign, but so far nothing conclusively linked to the plane has been found.
"The type of wreckage or object that we're looking for is so close to the water line that now radars would not be able to pick it up," Norris of the HMAS Success told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "So we are very reliant on lookouts who use binoculars and night vision glasses to scan the horizon and scan the area around the ship while we conduct our search pattern."
The forecast from Friday morning through Saturday shows much improved conditions in the search zone, CNN's Javaheri said.
"Scattered clouds should be expected," he said. "But the winds and seas will both calm considerably, giving a rare a stretch of generally favorable conditions for this region during this time of year."
Malaysian Remote Sensing Agency (MRSA) received new satellite images from France that were taken on March 23.
The images showed 122 potential objects in one area of the ocean. Some of the objects were as much as 23 meters in length.
Some appeared bright, possibly indicating solid material. They were located about 2,500 kilometers from Perth.
"This is another new lead that will help direct the search operation," said Acting Minister of Transportation Hishammuddin Bin Hussein on Wednesday.
Officials say they can tell you how Flight 370 ended. It crashed into the Indian Ocean, they'll say, citing complicated math as proof.
They can tell you when it probably happened - on March 8, sometime between 8:11 and 9:15 a.m. (7:11 to 8:15 p.m. ET March 7), handing you a sheet with extraordinarily technical details about satellite communications technology.
What they still can't tell you is why, or precisely where, or show you a piece of the wreckage.
See story as it updates on CNN.com.
A sailor and a civilian died after a shooting at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia late Monday night, the U.S. Navy said.
The incident took place at Pier 1 around 11:20 p.m., according the station's Facebook page.
No other injuries were reported.
Naval Station Norfolk was briefly locked down before the restriction was lifted.
Authorities did not release details about the shooting. But spokesman Jim Moir said the civilian suspect was shot and killed by Navy Security Forces.
The crew of a Chinese plane searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 spotted "suspicious objects" in the southern Indian Ocean on Monday, the latest lead in a long and often frustrating investigation.
But a high-tech U.S. search aircraft that followed up on the sighting couldn't find them again, Australian authorities said.
A reporter on board the Chinese plane for China's official news agency Xinhua said the search team saw "two relatively big floating objects with many white smaller ones scattered within a radius of several kilometers," the agency reported.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said on Twitter that a U.S. Navy P8 Poseidon aircraft that was tasked to investigate the objects was unable to relocate them.
The IL-76 plane that reported the objects is one of two Chinese military aircraft helping scour a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean on Monday for traces of the passenger jet, which disappeared over Southeast Asia on March 8 with 239 people on board.
With the search in its third week, authorities have so far been unable to establish where exactly the plane is or why it flew off course from its planned journey from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
China has a particularly large stake in the search: its citizens made up about two thirds of the 227 passengers on the missing Boeing 777. Beijing has repeatedly called on Malaysian authorities, which are in charge of the overall search, to step up efforts to locate the plane.
A Chinese icebreaker in the region, the Xuelong, has changed course and is headed toward the area where the objects were seen by the Chinese plane, Xinhua said.
Satellites focus search
Recent information from satellites identifying objects in the water that could be related to the plane has focused the search efforts on an area roughly 1,500 miles southwest of the Australian city of Perth.
Eight other aircraft - from Australia, the United States and Japan - are also tasked with combing the search area over the course of Monday.
The two Chinese aircraft are now heading back to base, Xinhua reported. The crew that spotted the objects has asked Australia authorities to send other planes to the area of interest, it said.
The aerial searches have been trained on the isolated part of ocean since last week, when Australia first announced that satellite imagery had detected possible objects that could be connected to the search.
Since then, China and France have said they also have satellite information pointing to floating debris in a similar area. The Chinese information came from images, and the French data came from satellite radar.
But Australian officials have repeatedly warned that the objects detected in satellite images may not turn out to be from the missing plane - they could be containers that have fallen off cargo ships, for example.
The investigation into the passenger jet's disappearance has already produced a wealth of false leads and speculative theories. Previously, when the hunt was focused on the South China Sea near where the plane dropped off civilian radar, a number of sightings of debris proved to be unrelated to the search.
Plane said to have flown low
The sighting of the objects of interest by the Chinese plane came after a weekend during which other nuggets of information emerged about the movements of the errant jetliner on the night it vanished.
Military radar tracking shows that after making a sharp turn over the South China Sea, the plane changed altitude as it headed toward the Strait of Malacca, an official close to the investigation into the missing flight told CNN.
The plane flew as low as 12,000 feet at some point before it disappeared from radar, according to the official. It had reportedly been flying at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet when contact was lost with air traffic control.
The sharp turn seemed to be intentional, the official said, because executing it would have taken the Boeing 777 two minutes - a time period during which the pilot or co-pilot could have sent an emergency signal if there had been a fire or other emergency onboard.
Authorities say the plane didn't send any emergency signals, though some analysts say it's still unclear whether the pilots tried but weren't able to communicate because of a catastrophic failure of the aircraft's systems.
The official, who is not authorized to speak to the media, told CNN that the area the plane flew in after the turn is a heavily trafficked air corridor and that flying at 12,000 feet would have kept the jet well out of the way of that traffic.
Malaysia disputes reprogramming
Also over the weekend, Malaysian authorities said the last transmission from the missing aircraft's reporting system showed it heading to Beijing - a revelation that appears to undercut the theory that someone reprogrammed the plane's flight path before the co-pilot signed off with air-traffic controllers for the last time.
That reduces, but doesn't rule out, suspicions about foul play in the cockpit.
The new details give more insight about what happened on the plane, but don't explain why the plane went missing or where it could be.
Analysts are divided about what the latest information could mean. Some argue it's a sign that mechanical failure sent the plane suddenly off course. Others say there are still too many unknowns to eliminate any possibilities.
CNN aviation analyst Miles O'Brien called the fresh details about the flight a "game changer."
"Now we have no evidence the crew did anything wrong," he said. "And in fact, now, we should be operating with the primary assumption being that something bad happened to that plane shortly after they said good night."
If a crisis on board caused the plane to lose pressure, he said, pilots could have chosen to deliberately fly lower to save passengers onboard.
"You want to get down to 10,000 feet, because that is when you don't have to worry about pressurization. You have enough air in the atmosphere naturally to keep everybody alive," he said. "So part of the procedure for a rapid decompression ... it's called a high dive, and you go as quickly as you can down that to that altitude."
Flight makes emergency landing
Adding to the negative publicity that has blighted Malaysia Airlines since news of Flight 370's disappearance, one of the carrier's passenger jets made an emergency landing in Hong Kong on Monday.
The plane, scheduled to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Incheon, South Korea, was diverted to Hong Kong after its main electrical generator stopped working. Electrical power continued to be supplied by the plane's auxiliary power unit, Malaysia Airlines said
The Airbus A330-300 landed safely at Hong Kong airport around 3 a.m., and the 271 passengers on board have been transferred onto flights with other airlines.
Despite better weather, the first of five search planes dispatched to look for floating debris that could be related to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 returned to base Friday without spotting anything of note.
The surveillance planes are looking for two objects photographed by a commercial satellite on Sunday bobbing in the remote and treacherous waters of the southern Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia.
Aircraft and a merchant ship scoured the area Thursday, but found nothing in a search hindered by poor weather.
Flight 370 vanished 14 days ago with 239 people aboard, and the announcement Thursday by Australian officials that they had spotted something raised hopes of a breakthrough in the frustrating search.
On Friday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended the decision to announce the find, saying that Australia owes it to families f those missing "to give them information as soon as it's to hand, and I think I was doing that yesterday in the Parliament."
But he reiterated a warning that two objects spotted by satellite in a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean, which are now being sought by aircraft and ships, may not be related to the search for the plane.
"It could just be a container that has fallen off a ship," he said during a visit to Papua New Guinea. "We just don't know."
His words have focused worldwide attention on Australia's part in the massive international hunt for the jetliner, which disappeared March 8 over Southeast Asia with 239 people on board.
Almost two weeks after the Boeing 777-200 dropped off radar screens, authorities still don't know why it veered dramatically off course or where it ended up.
Because of the "anxiety and apprehension" experienced by relatives of the people aboard the plane, Abbott said
Search teams that flew over the area where the two objects are thought to be located drew a blank Thursday, with poor visibility reported. Flights to the zone by long-range reconnaissance planes resumed Friday, Australian authorities said.
The search area, thousands of kilometers southwest of Perth, the main city on Australia's west coast, is "about the most inaccessible spot you could imagine on the face of the earth," Abbott said.
Two objects spotted in the southern Indian Ocean may be debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Australian authorities said Thursday, fueling hopes of a breakthrough in an international search of unprecedented scale.
The objects are indistinct but of "reasonable size," with the largest about 24 meters (79 feet) across, said John Young, general manager of emergency response for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
They appear to be "awash with water and bobbing up and down" in an area 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) southwest of Australia's west coast, he said.
"If that piece of the plane is that big, maybe it's the tail section" said David Gallo, one of the leader of the search for Air France Flight 447, which crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. But he warned that the size gave him a degree of concern.
"It's a big piece of aircraft to have survived something like this," he said.
The tail height of a Boeing 777, the model of the missing Malaysian plane, is 60 feet.
The announcement raised the prospect of finding parts of the plane amid a huge search that is now in its 13th day. The plane vanished over Southeast Asia on March 8, and previous reports of debris found in the sea have turned out to be red herrings.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott first announced the discovery to the House of Representatives in Canberra on Thursday. Australian search teams have been at the forefront of the hunt for the missing plane in the remote southern Indian Ocean.
"There have been so many false leads and so many starts and changes and then backtracking in the investigation," said Mary Schiavo, a CNN aviation analyst and former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation. "He wouldn't have come forward and said if they weren't fairly certain."
But officials cautioned that there were no guarantees that the objects now being investigated would prove to be from the missing plane.
At the Lido Hotel in Beijing where family members of some of the passengers on the missing plane have waited for news for days, relatives gathered around a large screen television watching the Australian news conference. They leaned forward in their chairs, hanging on every word. Some sighed loudly.
Malaysia Airlines said it won't be sending representatives or family members to Australia unless the objects are confirmed as plane debris.
'The best lead we have right now'
The images of the objects were captured by satellite and were being assessed by the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation. The images were taken near the area of the southern Indian Ocean that has been scoured by search teams in recent days.
Although the total search area for the plane spans nearly 3 million square miles, a U.S. government official familiar with the investigation said the missing plane is most likely somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.
"This is an area out of normal shipping lanes, out of any commercial flight patterns, with few fishing boats, and there are no islands," the official said.
Young cautioned that the images may not be from the plane. There can be other debris out there, like containers that have fallen overboard from ships, for example.
The objects were seen in the heart of what is known as the Indian Ocean Gyre. There is little to no oceanic current movement in the region and the area is notorious for trapping debris. It's one of the five major gyres in the world's oceans and is known to contain a "garbage patch."
"It is probably the best lead we have right now," Young said. "But we need to get there, find them, see them, assess them to know whether it's really meaningful or not."
The visibility in the area is poor, Young warned. "The weather is not playing the game with us," he said.
A Royal Australian Air Force Orion aircraft has already arrived in the area, Young said, and three other planes are being sent there, including a New Zealand Air Force Orion and U.S. Navy P8 Poseidon.
The flight crew on the Poseidon say they're getting radar hits of "significant size," indicating something lying below the water's surface, ABC News reported Thursday.
ABC's correspondent David Wright, who is on board the aircraft, says the crew told him that the radar indicates that "there is something down there." But ABC cautioned that it is still too early to tell if the radar hits are related to the missing plane.
An Australian C-130 Hercules plane has been tasked by Australian authorities to drop marker buoys in the area, Young said.
"The first thing they need to do is put eyes on the debris from one of the aircraft," said aviation expert Bill Waddock. The buoys will mark the place and transmit location data.
A merchant ship helping Australian authorities in the search was also expected to arrive in the area Thursday.
'Every lead is a hope'
The Malaysian Navy has six navy ships with three helicopters heading to the southern Indian Ocean to take part in the search, a Malaysian government source said.
"Verification might take some time. It is very far and it will take some time to locate and verify the objects," the Malaysian government source said.
See updates on this story at CNN.com.
Some information has been deleted from the flight simulator found at the home of the pilot, Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said. Forensics is trying to recover it, he said.
At Wednesday's news conference, he also said:
- Malaysian authorities have received background information from all countries with passengers on board the plane except Russia and Ukraine. So far, no information of significance has been found, he said.
- Malaysia has received some radar data, but "we are not at liberty to release information from other countries."
- Reports that the plane was sighted by people in the Maldives are "not true."
"I can confirm that the Malaysian Chief of the Defence Force has contacted his counterpart in the Maldives, who has confirmed that these reports are not true," Hishammuddin said.
Former accident investigator Steven Wallace speaks to the report that the pilot's simulator was found with data missing.
SEE FULL INTERVIEW ABOVE
Former accident investigator Steven Wallace speaks to circumstances if flight path was pre-programmed into the computer.
The pilot and first officer of the missing plane, both of them Malaysian, have come under particular scrutiny in the search for clues. Investigators say that whoever flew the plane off course for hours appeared to know what they were doing.
But officials have so far reported no evidence to tie the pilot and first officer to the plane's disappearance.
Supporting the case that whoever took the plane off course had considerable aviation expertise, The New York Times reported that the aircraft's first turn to the west was carried out through a computer system that was most likely programmed by somebody in the cockpit.
An aviation expert, writing an op-ed for CNN.com, floated the idea last week that whoever changed the plane's course was an expert.
The person who programmed the change of course would have been somebody "knowledgeable about airplane systems," The Times reported, citing unidentified American officials.
The information has increased investigators' focus on the pilot and first officer, the newspaper reported. CNN wasn't immediately able to confirm the report.
Asked about the report Tuesday, Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said: "As far as we're concerned, the aircraft was programmed to fly to Beijing. That's the standard procedure."
But he didn't rule out the possibility the flight path had been reprogrammed.
"Once you're in the aircraft, anything is possible," he said.
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