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July 31, 2014

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New objects seen, but still no evidence of jet

PERTH, Australia (AP) — A day after the search for the Malaysian jetliner shifted to a new area of the Indian Ocean, ships on Saturday plucked objects from the sea to determine whether they were related to the missing jet. None were confirmed to be from the plane, leaving searchers with no sign of the jet three weeks after it disappeared.

Meanwhile, a Chinese military plane scanning part of the search zone, which is roughly the size of Poland, spotted several objects floating in the sea, including two bearing colors of the missing jet.

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.

Dozens of relatives of passengers on the missing plane were to fly from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur on Sunday to seek answers from Malaysia's government as to what happened to their loved ones. 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.

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, said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is overseeing the search.

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.

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," he 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 U.S. Navy has already sent equipment that can detect pings from the back boxes, and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters in Sydney that the equipment would be put on an Australian naval ship soon.

"It will be taken to the most prospective search area and if there is good reason to deploy it, it will be deployed," he said, without giving a time frame. Other officials have said it could take days for the ship — the Ocean Shield — to reach the search area.

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 the southwestern Australian city of Perth than the previous one, with a flying time of 2 1/2 hours each way, allowing for five hours of search time, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

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 — which spans about 319,000 square kilometers (123,000 square miles) — 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.

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