The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has yielded more sightings of objects in the southern Indian Ocean, with Malaysian authorities saying they could be reached “within hours”.
On Monday evening, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament a Royal Australian Air Force P3 Orion located two objects, a grey or green circular object and an orange rectangular object, about 2.45pm AEDT.
The HMAS Success is in the area and attempting to recover the objects, and a US Navy P8 Poseidon, a second RAAF Orion and a Japanese Orion are also en route to try to find the items.
RAAF Flight Lieutenant Josh Williams later described other objects spotted by the P3 Orion, which dropped flares on the water to alert other aircraft and ships to where they had seen them.
“The first object was rectangular, slightly below the ocean. The second object was circular, also slightly below the ocean,” he said.
“We came across a cylindrical object that was two metres long, about 30 centimetres across.
“And we came across another item that was also cylindrical and shaped in a rough fish hook.
“There is no real way we can classify it on the aircraft – all we can provide is the possibility, a location and a time and remarks on the objects.
“The image analysis will be done on land.”
Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur it was possible the objects could be retrieved “within the next few hours, or by tomorrow morning at the latest”.
Mr Abbott cautioned, however, that they could be flotsam.
“Nevertheless we are hopeful that we can recover these objects soon and they will take us a step closer to resolving this tragic mystery,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the Chinese government-run Xinhua news agency reported that crew aboard one of the two Ilyushin-76 planes sent by the nation to assist in the search had spotted two relatively large floating objects and many white smaller ones scattered over several kilometres.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the US Navy P8 Poseidon aircraft went to investigate the area and did not relocate the objects.
The Chinese icebreaker Xuelong changed its course toward the sighting.
The find followed suspected plane debris being picked up by Australian, Chinese and French satellites, and a visual sighting by searchers on an Australian civilian aircraft of a wooden pallet along with belts or straps.
Ten aircraft were involved in the search on Monday, scouring different sections of the remote southern Indian Ocean some 2500km southwest of Perth.
The US Navy is sending a black box locator to the area as a “precautionary measure” in case the sightings confirm the location of the aircraft, which vanished on March 8 just an hour into its journey to Beijing, carrying 239 people.
The operation is likely to be hampered on Tuesday, with forecast rain leading to possible reduced visibility.
Flight Lt Williams said the Australian crew were going “hammer and tongs” during the sortie, their third flight in the area.
“The guys were running on adrenaline,” he said.
“Everyone was quite hyped but fatigue is starting to set in now.”