Satellite images have revealed 122 objects in the southern Indian Ocean that could be debris from a Malaysian plane missing for almost three weeks, experts said yesterday.
The latest sightings came as search teams stepped up efforts to find some trace of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, thought to have crashed on 8 March with the loss of all 239 people aboard after flying thousands of miles off course.
Malaysian acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said: “We have now had four separate satellite leads, from Australia, China and France, showing possible debris.
“It is now imperative that we link the debris to MH370.”
The latest images were captured by France-based Airbus Defence & Space on Monday and showed 122 potential objects in a 155-square-mile area of ocean, Mr Hishammuddin said.
The objects varied in size from one to 23 metres in length.
Flight MH370 vanished from radar screens less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing and investigators believe someone on the flight may have shut off the plane’s communications systems. Partial military radar tracking showed the plane had turned west and recrossed the Malay Peninsula.
To date, Malaysia’s air force has released few details of its radar tracking, saying the plane was last detected off the north-west coast heading towards India.
The country’s deputy defence minister, Abdul Rahim Bakri, told parliament that no action was taken when the unidentified plane was spotted because it was assumed it had been ordered to turn back, local media said.
“It was detected by our radar, but the turn-back was by a non-hostile plane and we thought maybe it was at the directive of the control tower,” he was quoted as saying.
Asked whether air force radar operators thought the plane had been told to turn back by air traffic controllers, Mr Hishammuddin, who is also defence minister, said he could not confirm it.
A dozen aircraft from Australia, the United States, New Zealand, China, Japan and South Korea once more scoured the seas some 1,550 miles south-west of Perth yesterday in the hunt for wreckage.
“The crash zone is as close to nowhere as it’s possible to be, but it’s closer to Australia than anywhere else,” Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said, before leading parliament in a moment’s silence.
“A considerable amount of debris has been sighted in the area where the flight was last recorded. Bad weather and inaccessibility have so far prevented any of it from being recovered. But we are confident it will be.”
Citing satellite-data analysis by British company Inmarsat, he said there was no doubt the Boeing 777 came down in one of the most remote places on Earth.
Recovery of wreckage could unlock clues about why and how the plane had diverted so far off course in one of aviation’s most puzzling mysteries.
Theories include a hijacking, sabotage or a possible suicide by one of the pilots, but investigators have not ruled out technical problems.
Australia, China and France have all released satellite images over the past week showing possible debris in the same general area as the latest sighting, but no confirmed wreckage has been located.
The black box, the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder all detail what happens during a flight, but time is running out to pick up locator beacons that stop about a month after a crash due to limited battery life, experts warned.
Meanwhile, many friends and family of people who were on board the plane say they want to see physical proof before they accept that all on those on board are dead.
There have been angry exchanges about the support they are being given from airline officials.
Malaysia Airlines has said that about 700 “caregivers are on hand” to offer support to grieving loved ones, most of whom are Chinese and are supporting each other in Beijing while they await further news on the tragedy.