Pool, AP Photo/Rob Griffith
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A French satellite scanning the Indian Ocean for remnants of a missing jetliner found a possible plane debris field containing 122 objects, a top Malaysian official said Wednesday, calling it "the most credible lead that we have."
Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also expressed exasperation with the anger rising among missing passengers' relatives in China, who berated Malaysian government and airline officials earlier in the day in Beijing. About two-thirds of the missing are Chinese, but Hishammuddin pointedly said that Chinese families "must also understand that we in Malaysia also lost our loved ones" as did "so many other nations."
Nineteen days into the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, the latest satellite images are the first to suggest that a debris field from the plane — rather than just a few objects — may be floating in the southern Indian Ocean, though no wreckage has been confirmed. Previously, an Australian satellite detected two large objects and a Chinese satellite detected one.
All three finds were made in roughly the same area, far southwest of Australia, where a desperate, multinational hunt has been going on for days.
Clouds obscured the latest satellite images, but dozens of objects could be seen in the gaps, ranging in length from one meter (3 feet) to 23 meters (76 feet). At a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Hishammuddin said some of them "appeared to be bright, possibly indicating solid materials."
The images were taken Sunday and relayed by French-based Airbus Defence and Space, a division of Europe's Airbus Group; its businesses include the operation of satellites and satellite communications. The company said in a statement that it has mobilized five observation satellites, including two that can produce very high resolution images, to help locate the plane.
Various floating objects have been spotted in the area by planes over the last week, including on Wednesday, when the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said three more objects were seen. The authority said two objects seen from a civil aircraft appeared to be rope, and that a New Zealand military plane spotted a blue object.
None of the objects were seen on a second pass, a frustration that has been repeated several times in the hunt for Flight 370, missing since March 8 with 239 people aboard.
Australian officials did not say whether they received the French imagery in time for search planes out at sea to look for the possible debris field, and did not return repeated phone messages seeking further comment.
It remains uncertain whether any of the objects seen came from the plane; they could have come from a cargo ship or something else.
The search resumed Wednesday after fierce winds and high waves forced crews to take a break Tuesday. A total of 12 planes and five ships from the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand were participating in the search, hoping to find even a single piece of the jet that could offer tangible evidence of a crash and provide clues to find the rest of the wreckage.
Malaysia announced Monday that a mathematical analysis of the final known satellite signals from the plane showed that it had crashed in the sea, killing everyone on board.
The new data greatly reduced the search zone, but it remains huge — an area estimated at 1.6 million square kilometers (622,000 square miles), about the size of Alaska.
"We're throwing everything we have at this search," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Nine Network television on Wednesday.
"This is about the most inaccessible spot imaginable. It's thousands of kilometers from anywhere," he later told Seven Network television. He vowed that "we will do what we can to solve this riddle."
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