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China satellite finds object near jet search area

By The Associated Press

This article was published March 22, 2014 at 9:36 a.m.

This image provided by China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense shows a floating object seen at sea next to the descriptor which was added by the source. The image was captured around noon, on March 18, 2014 by a Chinese satellite in S44’57 E90’13 in south Indian Ocean. It shows what is suspected to be a floating object 22 meters long and 13 meters wide. It is about 120 km south (slightly to the west) of the suspected objects released by Australia.

— A satellite image released by China on Saturday offered the latest sign that wreckage from a Malaysia Airlines plane lost for more than two weeks could be in a remote stretch of the southern Indian Ocean where planes and ships have been searching for three days.

The image, showing an object 72 feet by 43 feet, was taken around noon Tuesday. The image location was about 75 miles south of where an Australian satellite viewed two objects two days earlier. The larger object was about as long as the one the Chinese satellite detected.

"The news that I just received is that the Chinese ambassador received a satellite image of a floating object in the southern corridor and they will be sending ships to verify," Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters Saturday.

Australian officials said the location was searched earlier Saturday, before they learned of the satellite image, but the object was not found. Currents likely have carried away whatever was there.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is overseeing the search in the region, said a civil aircraft reported seeing a number of small objects in the search area, including a wooden pallet, but a New Zealand military plane diverted to the location found only clumps of seaweed. The agency said in a statement that searchers would keep trying to determine whether the objects are related to the lost plane.

The latest satellite image is another clue in the baffling search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which dropped off air traffic control screens March 8 over the Gulf of Thailand with 239 people on board.

After about a week of confusion, authorities said pings sent by the Boeing 777-200 for several hours after it disappeared indicated that the plane ended up in one of two huge arcs: a northern corridor stretching from Malaysia to Central Asia, or a southern corridor that stretches toward Antarctica.

The discovery of the two objects by the Australian satellite led several countries to send planes and ships to a stretch of the Indian Ocean about 1,550 miles southwest of Australia. But three days of searching have produced nothing.

One of the objects spotted in the earlier satellite imagery was described as 24 meters (almost 80 feet) in length and the other was 15 feet. The Boeing 777-200 is about 209 feet long with a wingspan of 199 feet and a fuselage about 20 feet in diameter, according to Boeing's website.

In a statement on its website announcing China's find, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense did not explain why it took four days to release the information. But there was a similar delay in the release of the Australian satellite images because experts needed time to examine them.

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