PERTH, Australia (CBSNewYork/AP) — A 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 said the objects were more than 1,550 miles southwest of Australia, near where other satellites previously detected objects. The objects ranged in length from one yard to 25 yards.
Hishammuddin said the latest images were taken Sunday and relayed by French-based Airbus Defense and Space, a division of Europe’s Airbus Group; its businesses include the operation of satellites and satellite communications.
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Various floating objects have been spotted by planes and satellites over the last week, including on Wednesday, when the Australian Maritime Safety Authority sent a tweet saying three more objects had been spotted. 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 Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, missing since March 8 with 239 people aboard. It remains uncertain whether the objects came from the plane or from something else, such as a cargo ship.
“If it is confirmed to be MH370, at least we can then we can move on to the next phase of deep-sea surveillance search,” Hishammuddin said.
On Wednesday, the desperate, multinational hunt resumed across a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean after fierce winds and high waves that had forced a daylong halt eased considerably.
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 Malaysia Airlines jet that could offer tangible evidence of a crash.
Malaysia announced earlier this week 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 622,000 square miles, about the size of Alaska.
The plane’s bizarre disappearance has proven to be one of the biggest mysteries in aviation.
Investigators have ruled out nothing so far, including mechanical or electrical failure, hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.
Mike Glynn, a committee member of the Australian and International Pilots Association, told CBS News he considers pilot suicide to be the most likely explanation for the disappearance, as was suspected in a SilkAir crash during a flight from Singapore to Jakarta in 1997 and an EgyptAir flight from Los Angeles to Cairo in 1999.
EgyptAir Flight 990 was schedule to make a stop at JFK Airport before it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 217 people on board.
“A pilot rather than a hijacker is more likely to be able to switch off the communications equipment,” Glynn said. “The last thing that I, as a pilot, want is suspicion to fall on the crew, but it’s happened twice before.”
The search for the wreckage and the plane’s flight data and cockpit voice recorders will be a major challenge.
It took two years to find the black box from an Air France jet that went down in the Atlantic Ocean on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009, and searchers knew within days where the crash site was.
There is a race against the clock to find Flight 370’s black boxes, whose battery-powered “pinger” could stop sending signals within two weeks. The batteries are designed to last at least a month.
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