New satellite find in Flight 370 hunt

An unidentified woman with her face painted, depicting the flight of the missing Malaysia Airline, MH370
An unidentified woman with her face painted, depicting the flight of the missing Malaysia Airline, MH370

A Thai satellite has spotted 300 objects floating in the Indian Ocean. The discovery comes just a day after Malaysian officials announced that another satellite had found 122 pieces of something floating a 125 miles away.

The discoveries, announced Wednesday and Thursday, come days after similar findings in the same general area, all part of the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The plane vanished on March 8 with 239 people aboard.

It’s enough to make you wonder: Have they found that proverbial haystack inside which we’ll find the well-hidden wreckage?

Maybe. Maybe not.

While analysts say it’s intriguing that the finds all appear to be in the same general area, searchers have yet to lay eyes on any of the objects, much less haul one aboard a ship and take a close look at it.

Stephen Wood, a former CIA analyst and satellite imagery expert, said the satellites could be seeing something as simple as whitecaps, which he said can look deceptively like solid objects.

CNN aviation analyst Jeff Wise said that while the latest find is “very enticing,” the number and size of the objects make him question whether they could be from the plane.

“If you see something floating that’s 60 feet across, that could be a big chunk of fuselage,” he said. “But if you have 10 pieces that are 60 feet across, that would indicate that they’re not from the plane, because the plane has only so much stuff in it.”

But Miles O’Brien, another CNN aviation analyst, said what he sees on the latest satellite images doesn’t look like everyday garbage to him.

“What I see there is something that seems to be somewhat metallic and shiny. Looks like airplane wreckage to me. I also see some surfaces that look like they’re aerodynamic.”

Concerns about weather, currents

It will be at least Friday before planes can try to find the materials and figure out what they are — rough weather in the remote spot is once again hindering search efforts.

By then, experts say, they could have drifted hundreds of miles in the complex currents of the Indian Ocean.

The latest images show about 300 objects ranging in size from 6 feet (2 meters) to 50 feet (15 meters). When photographed Monday, they were about 125 miles (201 kilometers) away from the spot where a French satellite captured a floating group of objects Sunday.

The find comes after news that a French satellite had seen 122 objects in the same region, and follows earlier sightings by U.S., Chinese and another French satellite.

Japanese media were also reporting Thursday that a government intelligence satellite had captured an image of 10 objects that may be related to the plane.

According to media reports, the objects were scattered across a 6-mile (10-kilometer) area about 1,550 miles (2,500 kilometers) off the west coast of Australia, very near the other finds.

One object was about 13 feet by 26 feet (4 meters by 8 meters), according to the reports.

Neither the Malaysian nor Japanese governments have confirmed the reports.

Harsh conditions hinder search again

Australian officials leading the search had to suspend air missions before noon Thursday because of bad weather. Six ships helping in the search are continuing to work, but conditions are poor.

Air crews who went out Thursday were “beaten up” by the rough skies, said Lt. Cmdr. Adam Schantz of the U.S. Navy.

The visibility is almost zero, with clouds reaching down to the surface of the water, and there is severe turbulence and icing, he said.

Early Thursday afternoon, more than 60% of the search area was experiencing a mixture of low visibility, strong thunderstorms and powerful winds, said CNN International meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.

Capt. Allison Norris, commander of the Australian Navy ship HMAS Success — which is helping look for debris — said conditions are cold and uncomfortable for searchers.

“We rotate the lookouts through every hour and make sure that they are appropriately dressed to combat the very cold conditions down here,” she said.

“The type of wreckage or object that we’re looking for is so close to the water line that now radars would not be able to pick it up,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “So we are very reliant on lookouts who use binoculars and night vision glasses to scan the horizon and scan the area around the ship while we conduct our search pattern.”

Thursday’s delay is the second time this week that harsh conditions in the isolated patch of ocean have hampered operations. Search missions were called off Tuesday because of stormy weather.

The forecast from Friday morning through Saturday shows much improved conditions in the search zone, CNN’s Javaheri said.

“Scattered clouds should be expected,” he said. “But the winds and seas will both calm considerably, giving a rare stretch of generally favorable conditions for this region during this time of year.”