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'Highly unlikely' that debris washed up in Australia from MH370

Australian authorities have said they are sure that the debris found on the western coastline south of Perth is "not a lead in terms of the search for MH370." The Boeing 777 disappeared seven weeks ago without trace.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) on Thursday ruled out a link between the missing Malaysia Airlines jet and debris found on a beach near the country's southwestern tip. A member of the public first found the "unidentified material" near the town of Augusta on Wednesday and alerted police.

"It's considered highly unlikely to be from MH370," ATSB spokesman Toby Simes said.

The organization's commissioner, Martin Dolan, later discussed the issue with public broadcaster ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) radio.

"We've carefully examined detailed photographs that were taken for us by the police, and we're satisfied that it's not a lead in terms of the search for MH370," Dolan said. "We're not seeing anything in this that would lead us to believe that it is from a Boeing aircraft."

Dolan added, however, that the ATSB was keen to investigate all potential angles and encouraged "anyone who thinks they have viable leads in relation to the aircraft" to make contact.

Even on Wednesday, when saying that the debris discovered was "sufficiently interesting" to warrant closer inspection, Dolan had warned: "The more we look at it, the less excited we get."

Mystery disappearance

The MH370 vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board, after diverting off its planned course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing without warning. Around two-thirds of the passengers were Chinese. The plane is thought to have crashed somewhere off western Australia in the Indian Ocean, but no concrete evidence has yet been discovered.

A US navy drone is in the process of scouring the seabed as part of the search.

"Bluefin-21 has now completed more than 90 percent of the focused underwater search area. No contacts of interest have been found to date," Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Centre said in a statement on Thursday.

Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the search teams would have to "regroup and re-strategize" if the current search proved fruitless, but said the rescue efforts would continue indefinitely. Similarly, the Australian government on Wednesday said that it "will not rest until we have done everything we humanly can to get to the bottom of this mystery."

msh/lw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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