122 objects that may be related to Flight 370 spotted by satellite

Posted at 7:42 AM, Mar 26, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) — New satellite images provided by a French defense firm show 122 objects floating in the southern Indian Ocean, not far from other satellite sightings that could be related to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the Malaysian transport minister said Wednesday.

The objects were scattered over 154 square miles (400 square kilometers), acting Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Bin Hussein told reporters Tuesday.

Hishammuddin said he wasn’t sure if Australian authorities coordinating the search for the plane had been able to follow up Wednesday on the new satellite images, which came from Airbus Defence and Space.

“I’ll have to wait and see what reports come back from today’s search,” he said. “This new information has just been relayed to them.”

Search aircraft spotted three objects Wednesday, but none of them were obvious plane parts, the Australian Maritime Safety Agency said. A civil aircraft in the search spotted two objects that were probably rope, the agency said, and a New Zealand military plane spotted a blue object. None of the objects were found again when aircraft made further passes, the agency said on Twitter.

The news came as search efforts for the missing flight resumed after a one-day weather delay.

Seven military reconnaissance planes — from Australia, China, New Zealand, the United States, Japan and South Korea — and five civil aircraft are making flights over the vast area over the course of the day.

And five ships, one from Australia and four from China, are in the search zone, Australian authorities said.

Satellites have detected objects afloat in the ocean over the past week and a half. And Australian and Chinese surveillance planes both reported seeing items of debris on the surface this week, but so far nothing has been recovered or definitively linked to the missing flight.

Officials have warned that objects spotted in the water may turn out to be flotsam from cargo ships, and that finding anything from the plane could still take a long time.

“There’s always a possibility we might not actually find something next week or the week after,” Mark Binskin, vice chief of the Australian Defence Force, told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Tuesday. “I think eventually, something will come to light, but it’s going to take time.”

The hardware

If search teams are able to find debris confirmed to be from the plane, that would help officials figure out roughly where the aircraft went down.

They would then be able to focus the search under the water to try to find larger pieces of wreckage and the all-important flight data recorder, which may hold vital clues about what happened on board the night the plane disappeared.

U.S. hardware designed to help with that task arrived Wednesday in Perth, the western Australian city that is the base for the search efforts.

The United States sent a Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle, which can search for submerged objects at depths as low as 14,700 feet, and a TPL-25, a giant listening device that can help pinpoint the location of pings from the flight data recorder. Towed behind a ship, the TPL-25 can detect pings at a maximum depth of 20,000 feet.

Time is against that part of the search, though, as the plane’s pinger is expected to run out of power within the next two weeks. The Indian Ocean has an average depth of about 13,000 feet.

The families

The wait for answers about what happened to the plane and where it is now has taken a hard toll on the family members of those on board.

Many relatives of Chinese passengers refuse to accept the Malaysian government’s version of events.

In Beijing, hundreds of them marched to the Malaysian Embassy on Tuesday to voice their anger and frustration.

And on Wednesday, they accused Malaysia Airlines of falling short on its promises to provide volunteer caregivers and accommodations for some family members. The airline couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

The Chinese relatives were particularly upset by Malaysian authorities’ announcement Monday that they had concluded that the plane had crashed into the southern Indian Ocean with the loss of all lives aboard.

Some family members said they weren’t satisfied by the Malaysian government’s explanation, which was based on an expert analysis of satellite data. They said it was covering up the truth and demanded tangible evidence that the plane had ended up in the ocean.

The Chinese government, whose citizens made up two-thirds of the passengers on board the missing plane, also said it wanted more information from the Malaysian side. President Xi Jinping has sent a special envoy to Kuala Lumpur to deal with the matter.

Malaysian officials released more details on the satellite analysis Tuesday and said they understood the families’ need to see physical evidence from the plane to get closure. They said they had made the announcement “out of a commitment to openness and respect for the relatives.”

The backlash

The Malaysians’ comments appeared to have done little to placate the anger among the families, though, and it appeared to be spreading more widely among the Chinese public.

Some Chinese celebrities used social media to urge people to boycott Malaysian products and visits to the country.

Chen Kun, one of China’s most popular actors, accused the Malaysian government and Malaysia Airlines of “clownish prevarication and lies.” His post Tuesday calling for a boycott was reposted more than 65,000 times on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform.

“I’ve never been to Malaysia, and I will no longer plan to go there anymore,” Meng Fei, the host of one of China’s most popular TV shows, wrote Wednesday on Weibo, calling for others to repost the comments if they felt the same. More than 120,000 users did.

Other social media users, albeit with smaller followings, argued against punishing Malaysia as a whole over the matter.

Chen Shu, a journalist, warned that a boycott would “hurt the relationship of Chinese and Malaysians” and long-term regional ties.

Chinese authorities regularly censor Weibo posts. The fact that the anti-Malaysian posts by high-profile users weren’t deleted suggested either tacit approval or at least an unwillingness to wade into the debate by Chinese government censors.

Hishammuddin, however, praised his country’s performance, saying officials had overcome significant diplomatic challenges to bring together 26 countries, at one point, to participate in the search.

“History will judge us well,” he said.

The legal action

In the United States, meanwhile, a Chicago-based attorney has taken the first formal legal steps related to the missing plane.

Monica Kelly, a lawyer at Ribbeck Law, asked an Illinois state judge on Tuesday to order Malaysia Airlines and Boeing, which manufactured the missing airplane, to provide documents and other information.

Kelly is seeking specific information about the airline’s batteries, details on the fire and oxygen systems, and records related to the fuselage.

The filing appears to be the first move toward U.S.-based litigation stemming from the March 8 incident. The firm said it plans to build a multimillion-dollar suit against the airline and Boeing.

Boeing declined to comment on the matter late Tuesday, and Malaysia Airlines officials weren’t immediately available.

CNN’s Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong; CNN’s Sara Sidner reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet, Michael Pearson, David McKenzie and Yuli Yang, and CNNMoney’s Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.

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