New satellite imagery showing more than 122 possible objects floating in a patch of the southern Indian Ocean offers the most credible lead yet in the hunt for the missing Malaysian Airlines B777 aircraft with 239 people on board.
Malaysia’s acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, says the items, estimated to measure between one metre and 23m, have been spotted close to where Chinese and Australian aircraft earlier sighted possible debris,
The images were captured by Airbus Defence and Space in France on March 23 and show 122 potential objects floating in an area of around 400sq km, located 2557km from Perth.
"Some appear to be bright, possibly indicating solid material," he says.
He stresses there is no way of telling if the potential objects come from the Boeing 777 but adds: "[The area] is not far from the objects sighted by China and Australia. This is still the most credible lead that we have."
Extra vessels and aircraft arrived in the search zone – – around 2500km south-west of Perth – on Wednesday, as crews resumed work after gale-force winds and heavy rain forced them to leave the area.
Twelve planes and two ships – Australia's HMAS Success and the Chinese polar supply ship Xue Long – are sweeping the zone, with South Korean aircraft joining the hunt for the first time.
Malaysia says the total area being searched covers almost 470,000 square nautical miles. Despite several possible sightings of debris, no objects have been conclusively connected to MH370, which vanished on March 8.
Australian pledge on search
Earlier, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot said everything was being thrown into the search, although it was not open-ended.
"We are just going to keep on looking because we owe it to people to do everything we can to resolve this riddle," he said on TV. "It is not absolutely open-ended but it is not something we will lightly abandon."
Legal action initiated
An American law firm that specialises in class actions in aircraft crashes has initiated a suit in Chicago against the airline and Boeing, alleging the plane had crashed due to mechanical failure.
Ribbeck Law, which is also acting for passengers on the Asiana that crash-landed at San Francisco in July last year, says it has filed a petition for discovery to secure evidence of possible design and manufacturing defects that may have contributed to the disaster.
"Our theory of the case is that there was a failure of the equipment in the cockpit that may have caused a fire that rendered the crew unconscious, or perhaps because of the defects in the fuselage which had been reported before there was some loss in the cabin pressure that also made the pilot and co-pilot unconscious," says Monica Kelly, head of the firm's global aviation litigation division.
"That plane was actually a ghost plane for several hours until it ran out of fuel."
She says the conclusion is based on experience on previous incidents, rather than the possibilities of hijacking or pilot suicide.
A likely law suit will seek millions of dollars of compensation for each passenger and ask Boeing to repair its entire 777 fleet, she adds.
Ribbeck says it expects to represent families of more than half of the passengers on board the flight but has declined to give details.