Searchers looking for missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 said Wednesday they had discovered a shipwreck while looking for the jet but had yet to find any sign of the plane. With 75% of the 23,000-square-mile high probability search area explored, authorities have started moving search vessels into a larger, expanded zone far off the west coast of Australia.
Meanwhile, Australia said it was allocating $40 million for the search in its 2015-16 federal budget and said it expects Malaysia to kick in an equal amount. Last year, the two governments spent about $50 million on the quest for the plane, which vanished in March 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
In Beijing on Wednesday, families of those who went missing on the flight extended a protest outside the Chinese Foreign Ministry into a third day. Chinese officials late last month announced they were closing a support center for next-of-kin that had been established near Beijing's main airport to receive queries and requests for assistance. A majority of the 239 people aboard the flight were Chinese.
A notice about the closing of the office directed next-of-kin to the government's general petitions bureau, the Ministry of Justice, Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Transportation or the Civil Aviation Bureau. On Wednesday, about a dozen people whose family members went missing aboard the flight sat outside the Foreign Ministry in camping chairs with signs reading, "Foreign Ministry, accept your responsibility!"
Officials at Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Center, which is organizing the search efforts, said Wednesday they had modified the search plan to adapt to the inclement wintry weather in the Southern Hemisphere.
Instead of fully completing the search of the high-priority area and then commencing into the recently defined expanded search area, search vehicles have moved into the expanded zone. In total, the two zones span 46,000 square miles, about the size of Pennsylvania.
"The search into the expanded area has already commenced, with search efforts focused in the south to take advantage of the last of the usable weather in that area," authorities said in a statement Wednesday.
During their search, vessels towing sonar sensors recently discovered what appeared to be man-made objects on the seafloor, more than 12,000 feet deep. Further investigation with an underwater camera revealed an anchor and what authorities said appeared to be lumps of coal. The largest object discovered was described as "box-shaped" and about 18 feet long.
"This wreck is previously uncharted and the imagery will be provided to expert marine archaeologists for possible identification," the Joint Agency Coordination Center said.