PERTH, Australia – A warship with an aircraft black box detector was set to depart Australia on Sunday to search for the missing Malaysian jetliner, a day after ships plucked objects from the Indian Ocean to determine whether they were related to the missing plane. None were confirmed to be from the plane, leaving searchers with no sign of the jet three weeks after it disappeared.
Twenty-nine Chinese family members, seeking answers from Malaysia’s government as to what happened to their loved ones, arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, said Malaysia Airlines commercial director Hugh Dunleavy. Two-thirds of the 229 passengers aboard Flight 370 were Chinese, and their relatives have expressed deep frustration with Malaysian authorities since the plane went missing.
It could take days for the Australian warship, the navy support ADV Ocean Shield, to reach the search zone, which shifted northeast Friday to an area roughly the size of Poland. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which oversees the search, said the ship will depart Perth on Sunday for the zone, about 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles) to the west.
The ship will be fitted with a black box detector – the U.S. Navy’s Towed Pinger Locator – and an unmanned underwater vehicle, as well as other acoustic detection equipment.
Ships from China and Australia on Saturday scooped up items described only as “objects from the ocean,” but none were “confirmed to be related” to Flight 370, AMSA said.
A Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 plane spotted three floating objects, China’s official Xinhua News Agency said, a day after several planes and ships combing the newly targeted area, which is closer to Australia than the previous search zone, saw several other objects.
Meanwhile, a Chinese military plane scanning part of the search zone spotted several objects floating in the sea Saturday, including two bearing colors of the missing jet. The search shifted northeast Friday to a new part of the ocean that is roughly the size of Poland.
It was not immediately clear whether those objects were related to the investigation into what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, and officials said the second day of searching in the new area ended with no evidence found of the jet.
The three objects spotted by the Chinese plane were white, red and orange in color, the Xinhua report said. The missing Boeing 777’s exterior was red, white, blue and gray.
Investigators have been puzzled over what happened to Flight 370, with speculation ranging from equipment failure and a botched hijacking to terrorism or an act by one of the pilots.
The latter was fueled by reports that the pilot’s home flight simulator had files deleted from it, but Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said checks, including one by the FBI, had turned up no new information.
“What I know is that there is nothing sinister from the simulators, but of course that will have to be confirmed by the chief of police,” Hussein said.
Newly analyzed satellite data shifted the search zone on Friday, raising expectations that searchers may be closer to getting physical evidence that the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean.
That would also help narrow the hunt for the wreckage and the plane’s black boxes, which could contain clues to what caused the plane to be so far off-course.
The newly targeted zone is nearly 1,130 kilometers (700 miles) northeast of sites the searchers have crisscrossed for the past week. The redeployment came after analysts determined that the Boeing 777 may have been traveling faster than earlier estimates and would therefore have run out of fuel sooner.
The new search area is closer to Perth than the previous one, with a flying time of 2 1/2 hours each way, allowing for five hours of search.
AMSA said 10 planes are scheduled to join the search on Sunday. The first aircraft, a Chinese Ilyushin IL-76, left Perth air force base and the remainder would take over throughout the morning.
The Australian navy supply ship HMAS Success, which is to store wreckage, and three Chinese ships reached the search area Saturday. A further six ships should arrive in the area on Sunday, AMSA said.
All ships in the search area are being tasked to locate and identify the objects sighted by aircraft over the past two days.
Weather in the search area is forecast to worsen Sunday with light showers and low cloud, though search operations are expected to continue, AMSA said.
Malaysia Airlines’ commercial director, Hugh Dunleavy, said in Beijing late Saturday that around 40 to 45 Chinese relatives of passengers on the missing plane would fly to Kuala Lumpur early Sunday morning.
Steve Wang, a representative of some of the Chinese families in Beijing, said the relatives wanted to go to Malaysia to seek more answers because they have been unsatisfied by the responses provided by Malaysian government representatives who have met them in China.
“We have demanded that we meet with the prime minister and the transportation minister,” said Wang Chunjiang, whose younger brother, lawyer Wang Chunyong, was on Flight 370. “We have questions that we would like to ask them in person.”
If investigators can determine that the plane went down in the newly targeted search zone, recovery of its flight data and cockpit voice recorders could be complicated.
Much of the sea floor in the area is about 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) below the surface, but depths may reach a maximum of up to 6,000 meters (19,685 feet).
The hunt for the plane focused first on the Gulf of Thailand, along the plane’s planned path. But when radar data showed it had veered sharply west, the search moved to the Andaman Sea, off the western coast of Malaysia, before pivoting to the southern Indian Ocean, southwest of Australia.
Wong reported from Kuala Lumpur. Associated Press writers Scott McDonald and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur; Kristen Gelineau in Sydney; Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia; Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand; and Aritz Parra and Didi Tang in Beijing contributed to this report.