KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Search planes headed back out to a desolate patch of the southern Indian Ocean today in hopes of finding answers to the fate of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, after China released a satellite image showing a large object floating in the search zone.
The object, which appeared to be 72 feet by 43 feet, was captured by satellite on Tuesday in a location that falls within the search zone that planes and ships have been crisscrossing since similar images from another satellite emerged earlier in the week. But officials have found no trace of the plane.
Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman Andrea Hayward-Maher said she did not know whether the precise coordinates of the location had been searched, but said officials would use the information to refine the search area today.
The maritime authority said a civil aircraft reported seeing a number of small objects in the 14,000-square-mile area on Saturday, including a wooden pallet, but a New Zealand military plane diverted to the location found only clumps of seaweed.
China did not explain why it took four days to release the satellite information. But there was a similar delay in the release of the initial satellite images because experts needed time to examine them.
Three planes left a base near Perth in western Australia early today to make the four-hour journey out to the search region, Hayward-Maher said. A total of eight aircraft will be involved today, along with the HMAS Success, an Australian navy supply ship, she said.
A cold front was forecast to move through the region, which could bring clouds and wind, further hampering the search.
The latest satellite image is another clue in the baffling search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which dropped off air traffic control screens March 8 over the Gulf of Thailand with 239 people on board. The plane had taken off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing.
After about a week of confusion, Malaysian authorities said pings sent by the Boeing 777-200 for several hours after it disappeared indicated that the plane ended up in one of two huge arcs: a northern corridor stretching from Malaysia to Central Asia, or a southern corridor that stretches toward Antarctica.
The discovery of the initial two objects by a satellite led several countries to send planes and ships to a stretch of the Indian Ocean 1,550 miles southwest of Australia. Three days of searching found no signs of the plane.
Police are considering the possibilities of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or anyone else on board.