Indonesian Air Force personnel listen to a briefing about the search mission for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777. On Wednesday, Chinese state media reported that a Chinese satellite spotted possible debris from the jet, with images available on a Chinese government website. Binsar Bakkara/Associated Press
Malaysia's civil aviation chief says no signs of the missing Malaysian jetliner have been found at a location where Chinese satellite images have shown what might be plane debris.
Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman says planes searched the location Thursday. "There is nothing. We went there, there is nothing," he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia dispatched search planes Thursday to examine the area.
Vietnamese officials previously said the area had already been "searched thoroughly" in recent days.
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 metres by 22 meters 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.
Malaysia has come under some criticism for its handling of the search, which currently covers 92,600 square kilometres and involves 12 nations, including the United States and Japan.
'All right, good night'
Also, Wednesday, it was revealed that the last message from the cockpit of the missing flight was routine. "All right, good night," was the sign-off 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 Wednesday in Beijing to anguished relatives of some of the 239 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 the 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.
Chinese impatience has grown.
"There's too much information and confusion right now. It is very hard for us to decide whether a given piece of information is accurate," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in Beijing. "We will not give it up as long as there's still a shred of hope."
"We have nothing to hide," said Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein. "There is only confusion if you want to see confusion."
Flight MH370 disappeared from civilian radar screens at 1:30 a.m. Saturday at an altitude of about 35,000 feet above the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and southern Vietnam. It sent no distress signals or any indication it was experiencing problems.
The Malaysian government said it had asked India to join in the search near the Andaman Sea, suggesting the jetliner might have reached those waters after crossing into the Strait of Malacca, some 400 kilometres from the flight's last-known co-ordinates.
Massive multinational search
Malaysian officials met in Beijing with several hundred Chinese relatives of passengers to explain the search and investigation, and to relay the last transmission that Malaysian air traffic controllers received before the plane entered Vietnamese airspace, according to a participant in the meeting.
Aviation officials in Vietnam said they never heard from the plane.
Its sudden disappearance led to initial speculation of a catastrophic incident that caused it to disintegrate. Another possibility is that it continued to fly despite a failure of its electrical systems, which could have knocked out communications, including transponders that enable the plane to be identified by commercial radar.
Authorities have not ruled out any possible cause, including mechanical failure, pilot error, sabotage and terrorism, and they are waiting to find any wreckage or debris to determine what went wrong.
In June 2013, Boeing issued a safety alert to Boeing 777 operators, telling them to inspect for corrosion and cracks in the crown fuselage around a satellite antenna. The alert says one airline found a 16-inch crack in one plane, then checked other 777s and found more cracking.
Two U.S. Federal Aviation Administration technical experts and a regional representative are in Kuala Lumpur as part of an NTSB team supporting the investigation. Experts in air traffic control and radar are providing technical help, the board said.
Hishammuddin described the multinational search as unprecedented. Some 43 ships and 39 aircraft from at least eight nations were scouring an area to the east and west of Peninsular Malaysia.
"It's not something that is easy. We are looking at so many vessels and aircraft, so many countries to co-ordinate, and a vast area for us to search," he told a news conference. "But we will never give up. This we owe to the families of those on board."
Confusion over whether the plane had been seen flying west prompted speculation that different arms of the government might have different opinions about its location, or even that authorities were holding back information.