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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

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hugo March 26 2014 at 8:13 PM

love the setup photos....small singleengine plance with a total range of around 1400 miles (stretching i) and saying boats searching....all 1800 miles from land....no "boat" would be anywhere near that part of the middle of nowhere... ships yes....not "boats" coverage is just been pathetic..

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ROBERT J'S March 26 2014 at 7:20 PM

Start putting tracking beacons on all commerical aircfaft that can't be turned off.. End of Search...

Flag Reply +7 rate up
artemis923 March 26 2014 at 7:19 PM

That area is called the Shrieking Sea for a reason. Its the deadliest swath of ocean on the earth. They're being cute when they say its "difficult to search." Try 30 foot waves and gale winds that flip smaller ships over effortlessly.

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epr70 March 26 2014 at 7:16 PM

WOW....some really interesting comments here...the plane is missing because one of two things happened, mechanical failure, either deliberate or not, or the pilot(s) chose to do something....is the plane some place else other than in the water, like Pakistan? Probably not....will this plane ever be found? Possibly, but not in the next few days, weeks or months

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denreilly1 March 26 2014 at 11:34 PM

Jeff Wise on Slate.com:
Analysis of the satellite Doppler rules out the northern track but places MH370 in the present search area, only if it climbed back above 30,000 ft. If it remained low & slow, a southeasterly track is indicated, off the south coast of Sumatra.

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2 replies
Donna denreilly1 March 26 2014 at 11:45 PM

They are saying it went back up. But I'm not sure it ever went down that low.

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plc775 denreilly1 March 26 2014 at 11:56 PM

What satellite Doppler? The satellite measured dip angle. If the track had been southeasterly (away from the satellite) the dip angle would have gotten shallower and shallower. Altitude and airspeed have no effect on heading; they affect only range.

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2 replies
denreilly1 plc775 March 27 2014 at 12:37 AM

Read the Jeff Wise article, 775. Your response reveals a sophomoric understanding of the technology.

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plc775 plc775 March 27 2014 at 1:30 AM

Googled the Jeff Wise article. Thanks. Didn't realize they were using satellite figure 8 to add satellite motion. Basically, its like having a range only radar with a superimposed Doppler shift. You can measure range but not azimuth. By the way, the dip angle is a function of range. The reason for eastward displacement is if the range remains constant but the distance flown is shorter, the plane would be nearer the equator. The further south it flew, the further west it would have to be.

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denreilly1 March 26 2014 at 11:56 PM

I believe that most accept that it was at 12K, before radar contact was lost.

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1 reply
neutralslamm denreilly1 March 27 2014 at 12:09 AM

Fox news broke the story, as they did the interview with the British company Inmarsat that tracked the pings, while MSNBC was talking about psychics and black holes, blahahahha.

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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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Eddie Gateway March 26 2014 at 7:12 PM

The battery for the pinger lasts 30 days? Incredulous stupidity. NASA uses batteries that will last 15 to 20 years!

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denreilly1 March 27 2014 at 12:02 AM

The Doppler analysis was the "breaking news" a couple of days ago. Jeff Wise provided an excellent explanation, 2 pages long.

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1 reply
neutralslamm denreilly1 March 27 2014 at 12:11 AM

Fox news broke the story

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1 reply
b19821 neutralslamm March 27 2014 at 12:49 AM

Fox news is lies....it does not matter what they talk about!

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isisreptiles March 27 2014 at 12:11 AM

So, nothing new to report....

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
paxrail isisreptiles March 27 2014 at 2:04 AM

This tragedy has provided a venue for a new form of entertainment. People are having a blast formulating dozens of different theories.

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