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Floating objects seen in Flight MH370 search area

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- They are the most tantalizing clues yet: 122 objects spotted by satellite, floating in the turbulent Indian Ocean where officials believe the missing Malaysian jetliner went down. But bad weather, the passage of time and the sheer remoteness of their location kept answers out of the searchers' grasp.

Nineteen days into the mystery of Flight 370, the discovery of the objects that ranged in size from 3 feet to 75 feet, offered "the most credible lead that we have," a top Malaysian official said Wednesday.

With clouds briefly thinning in a stretch of ocean known for dangerous weather, aircraft and ships from six countries combed the waters far southwest of the Australian coast. Crews saw only three objects, one of them blue and two others that appeared to be rope.

But search planes could not relocate them or find the 122 pieces seen by a French satellite. Limited by fuel and distance, they turned back for the night.

That echoed the frustration of earlier sweeps that failed to zero in on three objects seen by satellites in recent days. Forecasters warned that the weather was likely to deteriorate again Thursday, possibly jeopardizing the search for the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that vanished early March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

With the search in motion, Malaysian officials again sought to assuage the angry relatives of the flight's 153 Chinese passengers. But Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also expressed exasperation. About two-thirds of the missing are Chinese, but Hishammuddin pointedly said Chinese families "must also understand that we in Malaysia also lost our loved ones," as did "so many other nations."

The latest satellite images, captured Sunday and relayed by French-based Airbus Defense and Space, are the first to suggest a debris field from the plane, rather than just isolated objects. The items were spotted in roughly the same area as other objects previously seen by Australian and Chinese satellites.

Clouds obscured the latest satellite images, but dozens of objects could be seen in the gaps. At a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Hishammuddin said some of them "appeared to be bright, possibly indicating solid materials."

Australian officials did not say whether they received the French imagery in time for search planes out at sea to look for the objects, and did not return repeated phone messages seeking further comment. None of the three objects spotted by searchers Wednesday "were considered to be distinctive to MH370 or relevant to the satellite imagery," Australian Maritime Safety Authority officials said.

If the objects are confirmed to be from the flight, "then we can move on to deep sea surveillance search and rescue, hopefully, hoping against hope," Hishammuddin said.

But experts cautioned that the area's frequent high seas and bad weather and its distance from land complicated an already-trying search.

"This is a really rough piece of ocean, which is going to be a terrific issue," said Kerry Sieh, director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore. "I worry that people carrying out the rescue mission are going to get into trouble."

"We're facing an extremely challenging environment, and `unprecedented' is an overused word that in this case applies," said John Cox, a former airline pilot and accident investigator who is now president and CEO of Safety Operating Systems, an aviation safety consultancy.

The search resumed Wednesday after fierce winds and high waves forced crews to take a break Tuesday. Twelve planes and five ships from the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand were participating, hoping to find even a single piece of the jet that could offer tangible evidence of a crash and provide clues to the rest of the wreckage.

Malaysia said Monday that an analysis of the final known satellite signals from the plane showed that it had gone down in the sea, with no survivors.

That data greatly reduced the search zone to an area estimated at 1.6 million square kilometers (622,000 square miles), about the size of Alaska. Wednesday's search focused on an 80,000-square-kilometer (31,000-square-mile) swath of ocean about 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) southwest of Perth.

"We're throwing everything we have at this search," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Nine Network television.

"This is about the most inaccessible spot imaginable. It's thousands of kilometers from anywhere," he later told Seven Network television. "We will do what we can to solve this riddle."

Malaysia has been criticized over its handling of one of the most perplexing mysteries in aviation history. Much of the most strident criticism has come from relatives of the 153 missing Chinese passengers, some of whom expressed outrage that Malaysia essentially declared their loved ones dead without recovering a single piece of wreckage.

At a hotel banquet room in Beijing on Wednesday, a delegation of Malaysian government and airline officials explained what they knew to the relatives. They were met with skepticism and even ridicule by some of the roughly 100 people in the audience, who questioned how investigators could have concluded the direction and speed of the plane. One man later said he wanted to pummel everyone in the Malaysian delegation.

"We still have hope, but it is tiny, tiny," said Ma Xuemei, whose niece was on the flight. "All the information has been confusing and unreliable."

China dispatched a special envoy to Kuala Lumpur, Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui, who met Najib and other top officials, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

China, which has warships and an icebreaker in the search zone, has backed the demands of the Chinese families who want detailed information on how Malaysia concluded the jet went down - details that Hishammuddin said Malaysia handed over Wednesday.

China's support for families is the likely reason why authorities - normally extremely wary of any spontaneous demonstrations that could undermine social stability - permitted a rare protest Tuesday outside the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing. Relatives chanted slogans, threw water bottles and briefly tussled with police who kept them from a swarm of journalists.

Though officials believe they know roughly where the plane is, they don't know why it disappeared shortly after takeoff. Investigators have ruled out nothing - including mechanical or electrical failure, hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.

The search for the wreckage and the plane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders is a major challenge. It took two years to find the black box from Air France Flight 447, which went down in the Atlantic Ocean on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009, and searchers knew within days where that crash site was.

The batteries on the recorders' "pingers" are designed to last 30 days. After that, the pings begin to fade in the same way that a flashlight with failing batteries begins to dim, said Chuck Schofield of Dukane Seacom Inc., a company that has provided Malaysia Airlines with pingers in the past. Schofield said the fading pings might last five days before the battery dies.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the southern search operation, said a U.S. pinger locator arrived in Perth along with a Bluefin-21 underwater drone. The equipment will be fitted to the Australian navy ship the Ocean Shield, but AMSA could not say when they would be deployed.

Sieh said the seafloor in the search area is relatively flat, with dips and crevices similar to the part of the Atlantic Ocean where the Air France wreckage was found. Depths in search area range from 10,000 to 15,000 feet (3,000 to 4,500 meters).

"The idea of searching a potential area larger than the state of Texas is simply daunting," said Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. "We will need an extraordinary stroke of luck to recover floating debris, let alone identify where the wreckage is (on the ocean floor). It is just overwhelming the challenge that the investigators are facing."


Griffith reported from Perth, Australia. AP writers Eileen Ng and Scott McDonald in Kuala Lumpur, Christopher Bodeen and Didi Tang in Beijing, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles and Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
jeanpoetpicard March 26 2014 at 6:09 PM

Now you see it.....now you don't.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
accsport March 27 2014 at 2:12 PM

At 500 Knots (575mph) the Boeing 777-XXX has a range of over 10,000 Statute Miles and a little over 17 Hours of Fuel available plus reserves commensurate with IFR Flight Regulations. This aircraft has several Transponders and multiple power Buss Systems so if one fails the next one will Squawk the required Ident number and they have to be turned off manually by the crew. There are battery backups for the Avionics package. So all the Avionics transmitters were turned off as well to include the Collision Awareness System, The Terrain Warning System, the Aircraft Reporting System known as ACARS in the news, and many more. Then Five hours later someone remembered the Engine Diagnostic Reporting System Reboots every 60 minutes to align with the Satellite and turned that off shortly after the last information packet showed all systems normal at "CRUISE" settings which means the Engine operation was at speed for a 500 Knot flight. The Flight Data Recorder will transmit a "Ping" for a minimum of 30 days per FAR and can operate to depths of 20,000+ below the surface of the water while functioning properly. This aircraft has TWO (2) Emergency Locator Transmitters which will float if separated from a wreckage, are Manually, Impact, and Water activated and can not be turned off by flipping a switch in the Cockpit. So not one of the last three items has called home which begs the question maybe they are not in the water and did not crash? Now the high altitude change would allow the flight crew to reduce the pressurization and put all the passengers to sleep very quickly as in less than a couple minutes so they could not challenge the flight crew. If left at that reduced state the passengers would perish in minutes.

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humaar March 26 2014 at 6:45 PM

If , If, This elusive debris is from MH370. After so many days adrift the debris field could travel miles and miles depending on ocean currents etc. Prayers for passengers and families.

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1 reply
PAULIE humaar March 26 2014 at 6:56 PM

The DEBRI is not elusive at all. The authorities involved are the elusive objects in question ..... OMG this is the biggest cover up worldwide ever seen. OK send in SUBS and criss cross the area of this "so called debri field" ... they have not because those in high position know what where when and how this went down.

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1 reply
deejunebug PAULIE March 26 2014 at 10:18 PM

There have been many other aircraft in the past that vanished mysteriously...but it seems like flight 370 is the only one that has numerous puzzle pieces that don't fit together properly, causing SO much doubt in information credibility. It's like everyone involved is lying about what the truth is and failed to get together beforehand to even sound like they're on the same page.

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romac343 March 26 2014 at 6:43 PM

I sincerely hope they find that these floating items are evidence of the plane going down. It would bring some closure to the passengers' and crew members' loved ones, along, unfortunately, with unbearable finality. God rest their souls, wherever they are.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
artms04 March 26 2014 at 6:45 PM

I am sure the relatives are very frustrated, but many countries are involved in trying to find debris from the plane, in seas that are obviously extremely dangerous. To disparage the constant updates, and heartfelt condolences that are repeatedly going out to the relatives of the missing, who seem to be bent on so much hysteria. As terrible as it is, it has happened, and it will probably take a long time to put the missing pieces together, much like a jigsaw. Not being unkind, just a realist.

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loganmiley March 26 2014 at 6:22 PM

hopefully they do find something soon. It is ridiculous considering how much reources have ben put into this from 30 different countries and they still haven't found a thing this is stupid.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Keith Magee March 26 2014 at 6:42 PM

I don't think anyone/country wanted to be overly speculative on the outcome... hard to blame Malyaysia with their limited resources from simply waiting until more equiped countries could assist before committing to a given thought...

Flag Reply +2 rate up
la231 March 26 2014 at 6:20 PM

Can we say no concrete evidence still.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
petermacso March 26 2014 at 6:13 PM

Where are those satellites that can read my license plate?

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4 replies
Ken Garcia March 26 2014 at 6:35 PM

It doesn't matter whether Malaysians lost loved ones as well. When it comes down to human nature, regardless of nationality, race, or creed, until the loved ones have conclusive proof of debris or bodies, NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
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