In the "most credible lead" so far in the multination hunt for the crashed Malaysian airliner, 122 objects were spotted in remote southern Indian Ocean by French satellite that could possibly be debris of the ill-fated plane that went missing 18 days ago.
"MRSA (Malaysian Remote Sensing Agency) analysed the images and - in one area of the ocean measuring some 400 square kilometres - were able to identify 122 potential objects," Acting Transport Minister Hishamuddin Hussein said today.
The objects were detected on Sunday, a day before Malaysia announced that Flight MH370 - carrying 239 people on board - had crashed in the southern Indian Ocean without any survivors. The MRSA received new satellite images yesterday from France-based Airbus Defence and Space - a division of Europe's Airbus Group, he said, adding they were taken on Sunday.
The new images showed potential objects about 2,557 km from Perth in the southern Indian Ocean and ranged from 1 metre to 23 metres in sizes. "Some of the objects appeared to be bright, possibly indicating solid materials," Hishamuddin told a daily press briefing. "So this is is still the most credible lead we have ... If we can use all the satellite technology that is available, the radar that is available, the assets that we can deploy to this area. This now seems to corroborate some form of objects and debris. If it is confirmed to be MH370 then at least we can move on to the next phase of the sea surveillance search and rescue," he said.
Hishamuddin said the new objects were spotted in an area close to separate sightings of potential debris by China and Australia.
The images were yesterday forwarded to the Australian Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Perth. "It must be emphasised that we cannot tell whether the potential objects are from MH370. Nevertheless, this is another new lead that will help direct the search operation. "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. This will enable us to further reduce the search area, and locate more debris from the plane," he said.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said on its Twitter feed today that a civilian aircraft, one of 12 scouring the region, saw two objects while a New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion spotted a blue object.
As the weather improved today, 12 planes travelled to the search area, divided by Australia into East and West sectors, he said. "We are considering deep sea surveillance search and salvage," he said. Hishamuddin said new images continue to provide clues in the search for the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. And with improved weather conditions, aircraft are now "able to investigate objects of interest".
The Beijing-bound Boeing 777-200 - carrying 239 people, including five Indians, an Indo-Canadian and 154 Chinese nationals - had vanished from radar screens after taking off from Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak today met with Zhang Yesui, Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and Special Envoy, a day after angry relatives of Chinese passengers aboard the jet clashed with security personnel outside Malaysia's embassy in Beijing, demanding the "truth" about the plane's mysterious disappearance. Hishamuddin said he also met Zhang, during which the latter conveyed China's "commitment to continue and intensify the search operation in any way possible, and to deploy any assets that may be required". He said Malaysian government would be judged favourably by posterity over its much-questioned handling of the crisis. "I think history will judge us well," Hishammuddin said.
He argued Malaysia had handled the whole situation very well. "Not many countries can get 26 countries to come and work together, notwithstanding colour, skin, religion," Hishamuddin said, adding what Malaysia had gone through was "unprecedented".
Earlier today, Abbott had expressed confidence of finding the debris while speaking to the members of Parliament. "Bad weather and inaccessibility has so far prevented any of it being recovered but we are confident that some will be," he said as he moved a condolence motion in the House of Representatives and offered Parliament's "severe condolence for the families and loved ones of the six Australians and the other passengers and crew who are presumed to have died".