Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Debris could be from missing passenger jet

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Satellite images on a Chinese government website may show debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner floating a few days ago off the southern tip of Vietnam near the plane's original flight path, China's Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday.

The revelation could provide searchers with a focus that has eluded them since the plane disappeared with 239 people aboard just hours after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday. Since then, the search has covered 92,600 square kilometres, first east and then west of Malaysia and even expanded toward India on Wednesday.

The Chinese sighting, if confirmed, would be closer to where the frantic hunt started.

The Xinhua report said the images from around 11 a.m. Sunday appear to show "three suspected floating objects" of varying sizes in a 20-kilometre radius, the largest about 24 by 22 metres.

The images originally were posted on the website of China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence. That site reports co-ordinates of a location in the sea off the southern tip of Vietnam and east of Malaysia.

But since the satellite images were taken four days ago, it is far from certain that whatever they show would be in the same location now.

No other governments have confirmed the Xinhua report, which did not say when Chinese officials became aware of the images and associated them with the missing plane.

Two-thirds of the passengers were Chinese, and the Chinese government has put increasing pressure on Malaysian officials to solve the mystery of the plane's disappearance.

Malaysia's civil aviation chief, Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said Malaysia had not been officially informed by China about the images, which he said he was learning about from the news.

He said if Beijing informs them of the co-ordinates, Malaysia will dispatch vessels and planes immediately.

"If we get confirmation, we will send something," he told The Associated Press early Thursday.

Until then, he urged caution. "There have been lots of reports of suspected debris."

On Wednesday, it was revealed that the last message from the cockpit of the missing flight was routine. "All right, good night," was the sign-off transmitted to air-traffic controllers five days ago.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 13, 2014 A11

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