A civilian aircraft helping in the search of a remote corner of the southern Indian Ocean reported seeing a number of small objects, including a wooden pallet, Australian officials said.
The objects, which were spotted with the naked eye, were the only positive result from an otherwise fruitless search of the inhospitable waters as investigators look for possible wreckage of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.
A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3 Orion aircraft with specialist observation equipment was diverted to the location of the small objects, but only reported sighting clumps of seaweed, AMSA said in a statement at 9. a.m. ET Saturday.
The military aircraft dropped a marker buoy to track the movement of the material, it said. A merchant ship in the area has been tasked to relocate and seek to identify the material.
The painstaking air and sea search ended its third day shortly after 6 a.m. ET Saturday – about the same time as Malaysia announced that a Chinese satellite has also spotted possible debris less than 100 miles from the U.S. sighting.
Sea fog and low cloud made the search effort even more difficult than usual, according to military crews who arrived back at a base in Perth, western Australia.
Six aircraft and two merchant vessels have been involved in scouring a search zone drawn up after suspected debris was spotted by a U.S. satellite.
U.S., New Zealand and Australian aircraft on site for three days are now being joined by those from China, Japan and India.
Earlier Saturday, Australia's deputy prime minister promised that the search would be "exhaustive" and that the end of the operation was "not in sight" despite the lack of any confirmed sightings of debris.
Bill Neely and Alastair Jamieson
First published March 22 2014, 6:23 AM