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Debris area already searched

UPDATE 9:00 P.M. 

The area where Chinese satellite images show what might be debris from the missing Malaysian jetliner has been thoroughly searched in recent days, Vietnam said Thursday as Malaysia urged caution over the findings.

The hunt for the Boeing 777 has been punctuated by false leads since it disappeared with 239 people aboard just hours after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday. The plane was heading east over the South China Sea when it disappeared, but authorities believe it may have turned back and headed into the upper reaches of the Strait and Malacca or beyond.

The Chinese sighting of possible debris is not far from where the last confirmed position of the plane was in between Malaysia and Vietnam. The images and co-ordinates were posted on the website of China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence.

A Xinhua report said the images from around 11 a.m. on Sunday appear to show "three suspected floating objects" of varying sizes in a 20-kilometre radius, the largest about 24-by-22 metres (79-by-72 feet) off the southern tip of Vietnam.

Pham Quy Tieu, deputy transport minister, told The Associated Press that the area had been "searched thoroughly" by forces from other countries over the past few days. Doan Huu Gia, chief of air search and rescue co-ordinationcentre, said Malaysian and Singaporean aircraft were scheduled to visit area again Thursday.

Malaysia's civil aviation chief, Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said Malaysia had not been officially informed by China about the images, something he said was a "a breach of protocol."

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

Until then, he urged caution, noting that the general area had been searched several times and the images were taken on Sunday. "There have been lots of reports of suspected debris," he said.

A Malaysian military attache in Hanoi told Vietnamese search authorities Thursday that two ships and two aircraft had been dispatched to the area.

Li Jiaxiang, chief of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said later China had yet to confirm any link between the floating objects and the plane.

Malaysia has come under some criticism for its handling of the search, which currently covers 35,800 square miles (92,600 square kilometres) and involves 12 nations, including the United States and Japan.


ORIGINAL STORY 4:45 P.M.

Satellite images on a Chinese government website show suspected debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner floating 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 35,800 square miles (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. on Sunday appear to show "three suspected floating objects" of varying sizes, the largest about 24-by-22 metres (79-by-72 feet).

The report includes co-ordinates of a location in the sea off the southern tip of Vietnam and east of Malaysia. The images originally were posted on a national defence technology website.

With the passage of time since the satellite images were taken, 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 on the flight were Chinese, and the Chinese government has put increasing pressure on Malaysian officials to find 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 signoff transmitted to air traffic controllers five days ago.

Then the Boeing 777 vanished as it cruised over the South China Sea toward Vietnam, and nothing has been seen or heard of the jetliner since.

Those final words were picked up by controllers and relayed in Beijing to anguished relatives of some of the people aboard Flight MH370.

The new Chinese reports of the satellite images came after several days of sometimes confusing and conflicting statements from Malaysian officials.

Earlier Wednesday, the Malaysian military officially disclosed why it was searching on both sides of country: A review of military radar records showed what might have been the plane turning back and crossing westward into the Strait of Malacca.

That would conflict with the latest images on the Chinese website.

For now, authorities said the international search effort would stay focused on the South China Sea and the strait leading toward the Andaman Sea.

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