A U.S. Navy oceanographic survey ship will try to determine if metal objects found off Sulawesi Island are the wreckage of a Boeing 737 that disappeared more than a week ago carrying 102 people, officials said Tuesday.
"We can't tell what it is," Eddy Suyanto, the head of search and rescue operations, said of the debris found recently by an Indonesian naval vessel in three locations at depths of up to 4,500 feet.
The USNS Mary Sears, which has sonar and satellite imagery capabilities, has been called in to see if the metal is part of Adam Air Flight KI-574, which fell off radars in the area during 80 mph winds.
It was expected to arrive late Tuesday and to be put into action early Wednesday, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Max Kwak.
The pilot of the Adam Air plane, which left Java island for the North Sulawesi provincial capital of Manado on Jan. 1, twice changed course because of rough weather but did not issue a mayday or report technical difficulties, officials said.
With no emergency location signal to guide more than 3,600 soldiers, police and volunteers searching in the island's dense jungles and surrounding seas, teams have fanned out over a nearly 30,000-square-mile area.
After mistakenly claiming last week that the wreckage had been found with 12 survivors, officials were cautious Tuesday in discussing the discovery of metal objects in three nearby locations in the Makassar Strait.
The debris located 7-17 miles from Sulawesi's western region of Mamuju, said Gatot Sudijanto, the Makassar navy harbor chief.
It could be a sunken ship or something else, Suyanto told reporters.
"The U.S. ship will search in that area," he said.
Indonesia said it welcomed all international assistance in the search.
A Canadian airplane with inland mapping capabilities joined the search Tuesday, Suyanto said, and Singapore also has been providing aerial surveys.
A U.S. National Transportation Safety Board team arrived late last week and authorities in the United States were viewing satellite imagery of the island, the embassy said.
Three Americans - a man from Oregon and his two daughters - were among the plane's 96 passengers. It was not clear if any other foreigners were on board.
Adam Air is one of about 30 budget carriers that sprang up in Indonesia after the industry was deregulated in 1998. The rapid expansion has led to cheap flights throughout Indonesia, but has raised concerns about maintenance of the leased planes.
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The USNS Mary Sears had confirmed one of the objects at a depth of about 4,500 feet was "round-shaped metal," but that more readings were needed to identify it.
Thousands of soldiers, police and volunteers continue their search on land, heading to two points recommended by U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.
A Navy ship had detected large pieces of metal on the seabed off Sulawesi, 130 miles north of where the parts of tail, cockpit and debris from the cabin emerged.
Part of a jetliner's tail, food trays and shards of fuselage are pulled from the ocean in northeastern Indonesia.