Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Debris spotted in Indian Ocean sparks race against time to find parts of missing plane
Royal Navy survey ship HMS Echo has been sent to help with the search.
Authorities searching for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 could be in a race against time to find parts of the plane if debris spotted in the Indian Ocean is confirmed to be part of the missing jet.
Four military search planes have been dispatched to try to determine whether the two large objects bobbing in the sea are part of the Boeing 777.
David Gleave, an aviation safety researcher at Loughborough University, said if the objects are positively identified then the search will intensify in a bid to find the rest of the aircraft.
He said this is because, as each day passes, ocean currents will widen the possible search area by many miles.
The battery life in the black box is also more likely to run out, making locating the plane under the surface extremely difficult.
"Working on the big assumption that it is part of the plane then they need to establish the exact location, which they have done," he said.
"They may then place a buoy with it so they can continue to track it and there will be a navy ship diverted to the search area.
"If it is then identified as part of a plane, they would secure the wreckage so it does not sink with flotation attachments, and the search area around it would be intensified."
Mr Gleave said experts would then be brought in to start mapping the ocean floor and establish how far it could have drifted.
"Each day you could be adding a lot of sea area to the search, because of the ocean currents. And the longer it takes the battery life on the black box is less likely to last," he said.
"Oceanographers will be brought in to estimate how far they expect it to have drifted and a guided search for the plane would begin.
"In searches like that you look for clues on the surface and under the sea you listen for anything that the black box is pinging; however, that may have been disabled.
"If the plane is found, say 12,000ft (3,658m) down, then you need remotely controlled submarines with cameras on board to go to the bottom of the ocean.
"The key will be whether there is any data on the flight recorders. Once they have them on the surface they have to be taken to the relevant organisation to read the data.
"Once it's taken to be read you then have to dry the boxes out, which takes just over a day, and then you can start to access the information.
A Royal Navy survey ship has been sent to help with the search.
HMS Echo is in the area where two large objects have been spotted on satellite pictures, the Ministry of Defence said.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein described the possible sighting as a "credible lead".
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 when it went out of contact with air traffic controllers.
Confusion in search for MH370: A timeline
Uncertainty and frustration has clouded the mystery over the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.
A series of false leads has added to wide-ranging speculation that pilot error, plane malfunction, hijacking or terrorism may have been the cause.
March 8 - Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 takes off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am local time bound for Beijing carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew.
Someone, apparently the co-pilot, makes the final voice communication from the cockpit at 01.19am, saying "All right, good night" to air traffic controllers.
The plane is last seen on military radar at 02.14am heading west over the Strait of Malacca. Half an hour later the airline reveals to the public it has lost contact with the plane. The plane was due to land around 6.30am.
Officials reveal two passports used to board the flight were stolen, raising the first suspicions of terrorist involvement.
March 9 - Malaysia's air force chief says that military radar indicated the missing Boeing 777 jet may have turned back.
March 10 - Vietnamese aircraft search for a plane door spotted in their waters but find nothing.
March 11 - The hunt is widened to cover a 115-nautical mile radius involving 34 aircraft and 40 ships from several countries.
The Malaysian military claims it has radar evidence showing that the missing plane changed course and made it to the Malacca Strait which is hundreds of miles away from the last location reported by civilian authorities. The aircraft was believed to be flying low.
The two male passengers travelling with stolen passports were Iranians who had bought tickets to Europe and were probably not terrorists, Malaysian police said.
March 12 - Satellite images on a Chinese government website shows suspected debris from the missing plane floating off the southern tip of Vietnam, China's Xinhua News Agency says.
The report includes co-ordinates of a location in the sea off the southern tip of Vietnam and east of Malaysia, near the plane's original flight path.
March 13 - Malaysian authorities expand their search for the missing jet into the Andaman Sea and beyond after acknowledging it could have flown for several more hours after its last contact with the ground.
Nothing was found when planes were sent to search an area off southern Vietnam identified by Chinese satellite images. The Chinese Embassy notifies the Malaysian government that the images were released by mistake and did not show any debris from the missing flight.
March 15 - Prime Minister Najib Razak's says the missing airliner was deliberately diverted and continued flying for more than six hours after losing contact with the ground. The plane could have gone as far north west as Kazakhstan or into the Indian Ocean's southern reaches.
Malaysian police have already said they are looking at the psychological state, family life and connections of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27. Both have been described as respectable, community-minded men.
March 16 - The search area now includes 11 countries the plane might have flown over. The number of countries involved in the operation had increased from 14 to 25.
Malaysian defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he had asked governments to hand over sensitive radar and satellite data to try to help get a better idea of the plane's final movements.
March 17 - Officials release a new timeline suggesting the final voice transmission from the cockpit of the missing Malaysian plane may have occurred before any of its communications systems were disabled.
Investigators have not ruled out hijacking, sabotage, or pilot suicide, and they are checking the backgrounds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members, as well as the ground crew, to see if links to terrorists, personal problems or psychological issues could be factors.
March 18 - Ten days after a Malaysian jetliner disappeared, Thailand's military said it saw radar blips that might have been from the missing plane but did not report it "because we did not pay attention to it".
March 19 - Distressed relatives of the missing passengers threaten to go on hunger strike over the lack of information about the investigation.
March 20 - Two objects which could be connected to the missing jet are detected in the southern India Ocean, the Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said.
David Cameron offers help to Malaysian PM Najib Razak
Prime Minister David Cameron has telephoned his Malaysian counterpart to offer Britain's help in dealing with the disappearance of Flight MH370.
Mr Cameron also told Najib Razak that his thoughts were with the families of those who were on board the Malaysian Airways jet, which went missing on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
It was the first direct contact between the two prime ministers since the mystery began, said Mr Cameron's official spokesman.
The spokesman said Mr Cameron did not make specific offers of particular military or civilian assistance that the UK might be able to provide.
"It was very much inviting any specific requests from the Malaysians," he explained. "Prime Minister Najib said he would think about that and let us know if they have any specific requests."
Mr Cameron wanted to "make clear his thoughts are particularly with all the relatives of those who were on board the missing flight" and to "offer any support which the Malaysian authorities might find helpful", said the spokesman.
"Prime Minister Najib thanked him for that and they agreed to stay in touch on this issue."
Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nick Houghton spoke yesterday to his Malaysian counterpart and said that the UK military was ready to consider any requests for assistance, said the Ministry of Defence.
A spokesman said that Gen Houghton did not offer the use of any specific piece of equipment or military unit, but made clear Britain was ready to help if it was feasible to do so. No request has yet been received from Malaysia.
Mr Cameron told Sky News Radio/IRN: "I wanted to discuss the help we have already been able to give with the UK-based satellite company that has been talking to the Malaysian authorities and to offer any other help that we could possibly give and to see if he had any particular requests or ideas for things that Britain could do.
"We are good friends with the Malaysians, it's a very close relationship between our countries, we feel for them at this time and we want to help in any way we can."
Hull University said it could not confirm reports one of its students, Chinese national Yue Wenchao, was among the passengers on the missing plane.
Jeannette Strachan, the university's registrar and secretary, said: "We are deeply concerned to hear that Yue Wenchao, a student in the final stages of his MSc degree with Hull University Business School, may be among the passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines' flight.
"Although we are not able to confirm these reports at this time, our thoughts are with the friends and relatives of all those affected."
Hull chemistry student Luke Taylor told the Hull Daily Mail: "It is a total shock. We just want Yue and all the other passengers on the plane to be found safe and well as soon as possible."