Thai satellite finds 300 floating objects in jet search

PERTH, Australia - Thunderstorms and gale-force winds grounded the international air search for wreckage from Flight MH370 on Thursday, frustrating the effort yet again as Thailand reported a satellite sighting of hundreds of floating objects.

The Thai report was the second in two days suggesting a possible debris field in the stormy southern Indian Ocean from the crashed jet.

But an international air and sea search has frustratingly failed so far to secure wreckage confirmed to have come from the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, which went missing on March 8 with 239 people on board.

Planes and ships have faced fierce winds and sometimes mountainous seas as they hunt for hard evidence that the plane crashed, as Malaysia has concluded.

On Tuesday the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) called off both the air and sea search.

The agency on Thursday cancelled the air search because of worsening weather after it had got under way, but said ships would stay and try to continue.

"Bad weather expected for next 24 hours," it tweeted.

Thailand's Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency said it had satellite images taken on Monday of 300 objects, ranging from two to 15 metres (6.5 to 50 feet) in size.

It said they were scattered over an area about 2,700 kilometres (1,680 miles) southwest of Perth, but could not confirm they are plane debris.

The agency said the objects were spotted about 200 kilometres away from an area where French satellite images earlier showed objects.

Malaysia had said late Wednesday that those images taken Sunday showed 122 floating objects.

The Boeing 777 is presumed to have crashed on March 8 in the Indian Ocean after mysteriously diverting from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing path and apparently flying for hours in the opposite direction.

Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately redirected by someone on board, but nothing else is known.

AMSA had said earlier the French satellite images were in an area authorities have pinpointed as a potential crash zone some 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth.

Six military planes from Australia, China, Japan and the United States had been set to fly sorties throughout Thursday, along with five civil aircraft, scouring two areas covering a cumulative 78,000 square kilometres.

Five ships from Australia and China also were set to resume searching the zone.

Clock ticks on black box

The search suspensions caused mounting concern as the clock ticks on the signal emitted by the plane's "black box" of flight data.

The data is considered vital to unravelling the flight's mystery but the signal, aimed at guiding searchers to the device on the seabed where it hopefully can be recovered, will expire in under two weeks.

The drama is playing out in a wild expanse of ocean described by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott as "about as close to nowhere as it's possible to be".

The French images provided by European aerospace giant Airbus depicted some objects as long as 23 metres (75 feet), Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.

Seeking closure, anguished families of those aboard are desperately awaiting hard evidence, which the aviation industry hopes can also provide clues to what caused one of aviation's greatest mysteries.

US law firm Ribbeck Law Chartered International fired the first salvo Wednesday in an expected barrage of lawsuits on behalf of grieving families. The firm is targeting Malaysia Airlines and Boeing.

"We are going to be filing the lawsuits for millions of dollars per each passenger based on prior cases that we have done involving crashes like this one," the firm's head of aviation litigation, Monica Kelly, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.

A separate statement by the firm, which filed an initial court petition in the US state of Illinois on Tuesday, said the two companies "are responsible for the disaster of Flight MH370".

Malaysia Airlines has declined detailed comment.

Malaysia's government said this week that satellite data indicated the plane plunged into the sea, possibly after running out of fuel.

'Appalling' handling

MH370 relatives have endured more than a fortnight of agonising uncertainty.

Two-thirds of the passengers were from China, and relatives there have criticised Malaysia in acid terms, accusing the government and airline of a cover-up and botching the response.

The sister of New Zealand victim Paul Weeks lashed out Thursday.

"The whole situation has been handled appallingly, incredibly insensitively," Sara Weeks told Radio Live in New Zealand.

"The Malaysian government, the airline, it's just all been incredibly poor."

Scores of Chinese relatives protested outside Malaysia's embassy in Beijing on Tuesday, and a day later Premier Li Keqiang urged Malaysia to involve "more Chinese experts" in the investigation.

While Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately diverted, other scenarios include a hijacking, pilot sabotage or a crisis that incapacitated the crew and left the plane to fly on auto-pilot until it ran out of fuel.

Focus has also been on the pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, with the FBI Wednesday saying it was close to completing an analysis of data from a flight simulator taken from his home.

Malaysian authorities had sought FBI help to recover files deleted from the hard drive.

So far, no information implicating the captain or anyone else has emerged.

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