PERTH, Australia (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — A Thai satellite has detected about 300 objects near the search area for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner, officials in Bangkok said Thursday, but there was little chance of getting human eyes across those items in the near term as weather again forced officials to halt the search for debris by air.
Anond Snidvongs, director of Thailand’s space technology development agency, said Thursday the images showed “300 objects of various sizes” in the southern Indian Ocean about 1,675 miles southwest of Perth. He said the images were taken by the Thaichote satellite on Monday, took two days to process and were relayed to Malaysian authorities on Wednesday.
Anond said the objects were about 125 miles from the area where a French satellite on Sunday spotted 122 objects. It remains uncertain whether any of the objects seen by satellites to date were from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared March 8 with 239 people aboard.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said all planes headed for the search area in the southern Indian Ocean on Thursday were returning to Perth. Ships, too, were leaving the area some 1,550 miles southwest of Perth that was buffeted by heavy rains and strong winds that brought low clouds and reduced visibility.
Eleven planes and five ships had planned to scour the sea Thursday for objects from the Boeing 777.
Search planes have been flying out of Perth for a week, looking without any success for objects spotted in vague satellite images.
Finding them would give physical confirmation that the flight had crashed, and enable searchers to narrow the hunt for the wreckage of the plane and its “black boxes,” which could help solve the mystery of why the plane was so far off-course.
Malaysian officials said earlier this week that satellite data confirmed the plane crashed while on a course toward the southern Indian Ocean. Malaysia Airlines on Thursday ran a full-page condolence advertisement with a black background in a major newspaper.
“Our sincerest condolences go out to the loved ones of the 239 passengers, friends and colleagues. Words alone cannot express our enormous sorrow and pain,” read the advertisement in the New Straits Times.
The 122 objects captured by a French satellite ranged in size from 3 feet to 75 feet. The sighting was called “the most credible lead that we have” by a top Malaysian official on Wednesday, but the search will now have to wait until the weather improves, echoing the frustration of earlier sweeps that failed to zero in on three objects spotted by satellites in recent days.
Malaysian officials, meanwhile, again sought to assuage the angry relatives of the flight’s 153 Chinese passengers. But Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also expressed exasperation, pointedly saying Chinese families “must also understand that we in Malaysia also lost our loved ones,” as did “so many other nations.”
The French satellite images, captured Sunday and relayed by French-based Airbus Defense and Space, were 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, and the newly detected possible debris field seen by the Thai satellite may increase hopes that wreckage can be found once the weather clears.
At a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Hishammuddin said some of the objects seen by the French satellite “appeared to be bright, possibly indicating solid materials.”
But experts cautioned that the area’s frequent high seas and bad weather and its distance from land complicated an already-trying search.
In addition, one expert told CBS News it was “highly likely that it is trash and not evidence of the plane.”
Charles Moore, who’s been studying ocean trash for nearly 20 years at the Algalita Marine Research Institute in Long Beach, Calif., points out that there are “thousands of shipping containers lost overboard every year” in that part of the Indian Ocean. The objects could even be from the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, Moore added.
During a press conference Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said terrorism could not be ruled out.
“I don’t think at this point we can rule anything in or out. I think we have to continue to search, as we are,” Hagel said. “And you know the United States continues to stay committed.”
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