PERTH, Australia: Ship and plane crews Saturday searched a vast new area of the Indian Ocean for wreckage from a Malaysian plane which went missing three weeks ago, seeking closure for relatives and clues to the crash.
China, which lost 153 people when the Boeing 777 went down on March 8 with a total of 239 on board, was at the forefront of the sweep across a vast expanse of sea about the size of Norway.
One of its ships -- the Haixun 01 -- began hunting at first light for multiple unidentified objects seen from the air the previous day, and a Chinese air force Ilyushin IL-76 was the first of eight aircraft to depart from an air base near the west Australian city of Perth.
China's state news agency said the plane crew had spotted three unidentified floating objects coloured white, red and orange. The Haixun 01 would try to trace and retrieve them, it said.
Numerous satellite and air sightings of unidentified debris have raised hopes that wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines plane will finally be found.
On Monday Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that, based on fresh British analysis of satellite data, the plane had been lost at sea.
But after three weeks of false leads and sometimes conflicting information, many desperate and angry relatives are refusing to abandon hope until physical proof of a crash is found.
"Everyone knows that you are concealing the truth and delayed the research!" one of them told Malaysian officials at a tense briefing in Beijing on latest developments.
Another said Najib had "rushed to a conclusion" with his announcement and should retract it. Most of the audience applauded loudly.
The search moved Friday to a new sea zone after fresh data indicated the plane was flying faster than first thought before it is presumed to have run out of fuel and plunged into the sea.
Its disappearance, during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, is one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.
Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately redirected by someone on board before being flown thousands of miles southwards, but nothing else is known.
Attention has focused on the pilot but Malaysian transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said nothing incriminating had been found on a flight simulator seized at his home.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott -- whose country is coordinating the search -- said teams faced a formidable task.
"We should not underestimate the difficulty of this work, it is an extraordinarily remote location," he told reporters.
"We are trying to find small bits of wreckage in a vast ocean. While we're throwing everything we have at it, the task goes on."
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said six ships -- five of them Chinese -- were expected to be in place in the search area 1,850 kilometres (1,160 miles) west of Perth by the end of Saturday.
It said a second Australian navy ship, HMAS Toowoomba, had left port near Perth to join the search in a journey which would take about three days.
Yet the objects they are trying to find are tiny, with New Zealand Air Vice-Marshal Kevin Short saying the items spotted from a New Zealand Orion Friday were mostly rectangular and ranged in size from just 50 to 100 centimetres (20 to 40 inches).
The new zone is however closer to land, meaning planes can spend more time searching before having to return to refuel, and enjoys better weather than seas further south where the search had previously concentrated.
Adding to the urgency is the time limit of about 30 days on the tracking signal emitted by the plane's "black box" of flight data.
The US Pacific Fleet has moved specialised black box locator equipment to Perth and Abbott said it would be deployed on an Australian navy ship once an approximate crash site is established.
Chinese media, officials and relatives have all criticised what they see as an inadequate and sometimes secretive response by Malaysia to the crisis.
Relatives have heaped abuse on Malaysian officials at the briefings in Beijing.
On Saturday one woman responded angrily to information on sightings of debris.
"Thanks for this technical rubbish, but we are not technical people here, we want straight and plain answers!" she said.
"With so much debris, how do you explain that no piece at all has been retrieved yet?"
Malaysia also came under fire from Interpol, which rejected its claims that consulting a stolen passport database -- which may have detected two people using false passports on the flight -- would have caused excessive delays.
While Kuala Lumpur's handling of the mysterious disappearance has been criticised by families, Abbott said international protocols meant Malaysia would remain in charge of the operation.
"The prime responsibility rests with Malaysia (but) Australia is ready to shoulder as much of the responsibility as countries wish us to take," he said.