KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia dispatched search planes Thursday to examine an area where Chinese satellite images show what might be debris from the missing Malaysian jetliner, but urged caution over the findings.
Vietnamese officials 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 coordinates were posted on the website of China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.
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-kilometer radius, the largest about 24-by-22 meters (79-by-72 feet) off the southern tip of Vietnam.
Defense and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said planes had been sent to the area.
"We are still following leads on an hourly basis. The latest is on the Chinese satellite. I will give you the latest on that once I get confirmation," he said.
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. Doan Huu Gia, chief of air search and rescue coordination center, said Malaysian and Singaporean aircraft were scheduled to visit area again Thursday.
Malaysia's civil aviation chief, Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said Malaysia had not been officially informed by China about the images, something he said was a "a breach of protocol."
He noted the general area had been searched several times and the images were taken on Sunday. "There have been lots of reports of suspected debris," he said.
Li Jiaxiang, chief of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said later China had yet to confirm any link between the floating objects and the plane.
Malaysia has come under some criticism for its handling of the search, which currently covers 35,800 square miles (92,600 square kilometers) and involves 12 nations.