Missing Malaysia Flight MH370: French satellite data backs ‘evidence’ that plane crashed in southern Indian Ocean

Planes and ships were scrambled today to find a pallet and other debris in a remote patch of the southern Indian Ocean

Evidence that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 ended up in the vast, desolate waters of the southern Indian Ocean appears to be mounting – but the quest to find the doomed aircraft itself is still proving tortuously difficult.

French satellite pictures handed to Malaysian authorities on Sunday show possible debris from the missing Boeing 777, photographed in broadly the same area as objects picked up by Australian and Chinese satellites last week.

A plane scouring the search area, about 2,500km south-west of Perth, spotted a wooden pallet and other objects late on Saturday, including what looked like variously coloured straps or belts. However, it was unable to get up close or take photographs, and other aircraft dispatched to the site on Sunday could only see seaweed.

Nonetheless, the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, expressed cautious optimism about a possible breakthrough in the 16-day hunt for the plane, which vanished off civilian radar screens with 239 passengers and crew during a night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

"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," he said.

An Australian aviation expert, Neil Hansford, said he believed there was a "high likelihood" that the satellite photographs show wreckage from the plane.

A Malaysian statement about the French images gave no details about the number, size or precise whereabouts of the objects, merely describing them - in a reference to one of two broad arcs identified as the plane's likely final location - as "potential objects in the vicinity of the southern corridor". The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, expressed cautious optimism about a possible breakthrough in the 16-day hunt for the plane The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, expressed cautious optimism about a possible breakthrough in the 16-day hunt for the plane

The photos have been relayed to Australia, which is co-ordinating the search which began last Thursday deep in the southern Indian Ocean, after the first grainy images emerged of objects floating in the churning waters.

One large object, photographed by Australian and Chinese satellites, could be an aircraft wing - or a lost shipping container.

Mike Barton, from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, said wooden pallets were commonly used in the airline industry, "usually packed into another container which is loaded in the belly of the aircraft". Pallets were, however, also used in shipping, he noted. The agency has requested a cargo manifest from Malaysia Airlines.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority map of the planned search area for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 on March 21, 2014 The Australian Maritime Safety Authority map of the planned search area for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 on March 21, 2014

The eight aircraft searching on Sunday - which included two Chinese Ilyushin IL-76s and two Japanese P2 Orions - focused on two areas covering 59,000 square kilometres.

A marker buoy was dropped at the site where the pallet was spotted so that its movement could be tracked. The air search is being supported by several ships in the area.

Mr Abbott said of the hunt: "We owe it to the almost  240 people on board the plane. We owe it to their grieving families. We owe it to the governments of the countries concerned to do everything we can to discover as much as we can about the fate of MH370."

Relatives are now enduring a third, agonising week of waiting for news.

Wang Zheng, whose parents, Wang Linshi and Xiong Yunming, were among 153 Chinese passengers, told Associated Press in Beijing: "Biggest of all is the emotional turmoil I've been going through. I can't eat, I can't sleep. I've been dreaming of my parents every day."

Mr Wang, whose parents were among a group of Chinese artists touring Malaysia, last spoke with them on the night of their departure, shortly before they boarded the plane. They were filling out exit cards at the airport, and told him they would call him on their arrival in Beijing.

Like other relatives, he is praying that the possible debris turns out to be a false lead - meaning that his parents could still be alive.

"I will stay here until they give me an answer," he said, speaking at a Beijing hotel where families attend daily briefings. "I am not leaving until I know for certain where my parents are."

The search will resume again tomorrow, but the threat of bad weather still looms, with a cyclone reported to be heading towards the search area at the moment, which will cause difficult conditions with strong winds, though it is expected to lose its strength over the next few days.

Today the Telegraph reported the investigation into how the plane carrying 239 people on 8 March went missing is becoming increasingly centred on the two pilots, following an extensive analysis of data from the plane.

According to senior sources involved in the investigation, the paper reports that authorities remain certain the disappearance of flight MH370 was a result of a "deliberate act" by a "person or persons on board".

Malaysian police have denied reports in the Mail Online that the missing flight's Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah received a two minute phone call from a woman before take-off.

The woman is supposed to have bought a pay-as-you-go phone to make the call with fake ID and the paper claims the discovery raises fears of a possible link between the Captain and terrorist groups who use untraceable SIM cards.

Assistant commissioner Datin Asmawati has called the claims "mere speculations."

He said: "Please be advised that the Royal Malaysia Police take no responsibility over the dissemination of such information which originates from unnamed and unverified sources."

"Secondly the IGP has never issued any public statement that categorically places the MH370 investigation under any act of terrorism," he added.

AMSA said it had refined the search based on the latest clue from the Chinese satellite showing an object that appeared to be 72 feet by 43 feet, when it started its mission today. It said the object's position also fell within yesterday's search area but it had not been sighted.

Yesterday's search was split into two areas within the same proximity covering 22,800 square miles. These areas have been determined by drift modelling, the AMSA said.

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein put a message on his Twitter account asking those in churches around the country to offer a "prayer please" for the passengers and crew on Fight 370.

READ MORE: 'We are not giving up', say officials
Spotter planes fail to find any sign of jet
Debris in Indian Ocean spotted by satellite
Following in the trail of the lost plane
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Plant Fitter - Construction Industry

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This well established construction equipment d...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

Recruitment Genius: Factory Operatives

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This high quality thread manufacturer ba...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003