Australians: Objects must be checked

They were spotted in new area of search for jetliner

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PERTH, Australia — Objects spotted floating in a new search area for debris from the missing Malaysian jetliner need to be recovered and inspected before they can be linked to the plane, Australian officials said Saturday.

Planes from China and Australia combed the newly targeted area off the west coast of Australia after several objects were spotted Friday, including two rectangular items that were blue and gray, and ships will attempt to recover them, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.

“The objects cannot be verified or discounted as being from MH370 until they are relocated and recovered by ships,” the authority said in a statement. “It is not known how much flotsam, such as from fishing activities, is ordinarily there. At least one distinctive fishing object has been identified.”

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said a cold front would bring rain, low clouds and reduced visibility over the southern part of the search area, with moderate winds and swells of up to 6 feet. Conditions will improve Sunday, although rain, drizzle and low clouds are still likely.

Newly analyzed satellite data shifted the search zone on Friday, raising hopes searchers may be closer to getting physical evidence that Flight 370 crashed in the Indian Ocean on March 8 with 239 people aboard.

The newly targeted zone is nearly 700 miles northeast of sites the searchers have crisscrossed for the past week. The redeployment came after analysts determined that the jet may have been traveling faster than earlier estimates and would therefore have run out of fuel sooner, officials said.

During the earlier search, hundreds of objects have been seen in the water by satellites, but so far not a single one has been confirmed as being from the missing Boeing 777.

Search planes are being sent out from Perth, Australia, in a staggered manner, so at least one plane will be over the area for most of the daylight hours. It is also closer than the previous search area, with a flying time of 2½ hours each way, allowing for five hours of search time, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

The Australian statement said five P-3 Orions — three from Australia and one each from Japan and New Zealand — plus a Japanese coast guard jet, a Chinese Ilyushin IL-76, and one civilian jet acting as a communications relay were taking part in the air search Saturday. But Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters in Sydney that the job of locating the debris was still difficult.

“We should not underestimate the difficulty of this work — it is an extraordinarily remote location. There are inhospitable seas, it’s an inaccessible place, we are trying to find small bits of wreckage in a vast ocean,” he said.

The new search area is about 80 percent smaller than the old one, but still spans about 123,000 square miles, roughly the size of Poland. In most places, depths range from about 6,560 feet to 13,120 feet, although the much deeper Diamantina trench edges the search area.

Flight 370 disappeared March 8 while bound from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The new search zone’s location 435 miles closer to the Australian mainland makes it easier to reach.