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Search zone for Malaysian airliner shifts again

Relatives of missing Chinese passengers left a Beijing briefing Friday in protest.

Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

Relatives of missing Chinese passengers left a Beijing briefing Friday in protest.

PERTH, Australia — Eight planes were deployed Saturday to locate objects floating in a new search area for wreckage from the missing Malaysian jetliner, Australian officials said.

Observers on search planes found multiple pieces of debris a day earlier, but investigators said they would have to be recovered and inspected before they can be linked to the plane.

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They included two rectangular items that were blue and gray, which ships on the scene will attempt to recover, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.

“It is not known how much flotsam, such as from fishing activities, is ordinarily there. At least one distinctive fishing object has been identified,” the authority said.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said a cold front was bringing 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 are expected to improve Sunday, although rain, drizzle, and low clouds are still likely.

Newly analyzed satellite data shifted the search zone on Friday, raising hopes investigators 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 criscrossed 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.

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

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 will take part in the air search Saturday.

The shift to the new zone could be a break for searchers because it is a shorter flight from land and has much calmer weather than the remote stretch previously targeted.

But Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia 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, investigators said. In most places, depths range from about 6,560 feet to 13,120 feet.

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