MH370: what do the latest developments mean?

Satellite images of objects seen in South Indian Ocean

Two objects spotted in the South Indian Ocean may be debris from missing flight MH370, the Australian Prime Minister said this morning.

The objects were picked up using satellite imagery, and while it is unclear what they are, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said they were of a “reasonable size”, with one measuring around 24 metres long.

“Pings” from a number of “sizeable objects” have also been reported by a US spotter plane directed to the area.

There are now four aircraft on their way to the site including two Australian aircrafts, a New Zealand air force Orion and a United States navy P8 Poseidon.

In his address to Australian MPs this morning, Prime Minister Tony Abbott however stressed that locating the objects will be “extremely difficult”, while the country’s defence minister David Johnson described the search as a “logistical nightmare”.

This is due to poor visibility and challenging weather conditions in the remote area, as well as the fact that the satellite images were taken on 16th March, and the objects will therefore have moved.

This is not the first suspected sighting linked to the missing Malaysian Airlines flight, and in a press conference Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein stressed that while the pictures are “credible”, the objects have not been confirmed as MH370 debris, and may not be related to the aircraft.

An Austrlian flight crew in the search for Malaysian Airline flight MH370AP Images

An Austrlian flight crew in the search for Malaysian Airline flight MH370

Mr Hussein said the search will therefore not be “de-intensified” in previously set search areas, but will be “intensified” around the site of this “credible new lead”.

There are now a total of 18 ships, and 29 aircraft deployed for the search.

If it is wreckage, what will search teams do with it?

If search teams do locate and confirm MH370 debris, the next major challenge will be retrieving it.

Speaking to BBC World News, Australian aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas said "This is about the most challenging location you could possibly pick... The seas out there can get to 30m (98ft) in height and the sea floor is about 10,000ft (3,000m) down. This is about as tough as it gets."

Attempts to retrieve any objects will fall to Royal Australian Navy warship HMAS Success, which AMSA chief John Young said is well-equipped for the task.

However the ship is said to be several days away.

A merchant ship that responded to a broadcast from the Rescue Coordination Centre has also been diverted to the area.

The remote location of the sighting means ships are quickly needed in the search,  as to reach the area, aircrafts must fly four hours from West Australia’s Pearce Air Force base and can only spend two hours scouring the ocean before setting out on their return to ensure they have enough fuel left to land.

John Young, general manager of the emergency response division of AMSAReuters

What is the theory if objects are confirmed as debris?

The satellite images in focus today were taken in an area some 1500 miles south west of Perth.

Any discovery in this area could suggest the plane had crashed after running out of fuel, as the location is estimated to be at the far end of the distance fuel reserves could reach.

This would appear to suggest that a terrorist hijacking of the plane is unlikely

The search for the missing Boeing 777 is now in its twelfth day, after it vanished during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people onboard.