PERTH, Australia — The clues keep piling up: more and more mysterious objects spotted bobbing in the southern Indian Ocean, perhaps part of the missing Malaysian airliner, perhaps not. But just as the night sky depicts the universe as it once was, the satellite images that reveal these items are also a glance backward in time.
Strong winds and fast currents make it difficult to pinpoint where they are right now, and stormy weather Thursday again halted the hunt by air and sea for evidence of debris fields. The search for the plane that disappeared March 8 has yet to produce a single piece of debris — not to mention the black boxes, which could solve the mystery of why the jet flew so far off-course.
For relatives of the 239 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, it was yet another agonizing day of waiting.
“Until something is picked up and analyzed to make sure it’s from MH370, we can’t believe it,” Steve Wang, whose 57-year-old mother was aboard the flight, said in Beijing. “Without that, it’s useless.”
Japan said it provided Malaysia with information from satellite images taken Wednesday showing about 10 objects that might be debris from the plane, with the largest measuring about 4 metres by 8 metres (13 feet by 26 feet). The objects were located about 2,500 kilometres (1,560 miles) southwest of Perth, Japan’s Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office said.
That would place them in the same general area as the 122 objects spotted by a French satellite on Sunday.
Muddying the picture perhaps, a Thai satellite revealed about 300 objects about 200 kilometres (125 miles) to the southwest of the items seen by the Japanese and French satellites. The photos were taken Monday, one day after the French and two days before the Japanese.
The objects spotted by the Thaichote satellite ranged from 2 metres to 16 metres long, said Anond Snidvongs, director of Thailand’s space technology development agency. He said the images took two days to process and were relayed to Malaysian authorities Wednesday.
A Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said the U.S. has also been “sharing imagery as appropriate” with investigators, but he declined to say what it entailed.
It’s unknown whether any of the objects detected by the various satellites were the same. Currents in the ocean can run a meter per second (about 2.2 mph) and wind also could move material.
Nevertheless, the images have helped guide the search. What hasn’t helped is the weather. Heavy rain, wind and low clouds caused the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to pull back all 11 planes scheduled to take part in the search Thursday. Five ships continued the hunt.
All but three of the planes — a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon, a Japanese P-3 Orion and a Japanese Gulfstream jet — reached the search zone, about 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth, before the air search was suspended, AMSA spokesman Sam Cardwell said.
They were there “maybe two hours” and found nothing, Cardwell said. “They got a bit of time in, but it was not useful because there was no visibility.”
In a message on its Twitter account, AMSA said the bad weather was expected to last 24 hours.
The extreme remoteness of the area and its frequent high seas also complicate the search.
“This is a really rough piece of ocean, which is going to be a terrific issue,” said Kerry Sieh, director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore. “I worry that people carrying out the rescue mission are going to get into trouble.”
Planes have been flying out of Perth for a week, seeing a few small objects that might or might not be from the plane and nothing of the possible debris fields viewed by the Japanese, Thai and French satellites. Even the few objects the planes saw seemed to vanish when aircraft went back for another look.
If and when any bit of wreckage from Flight 370 is recovered and identified, searchers will be able to narrow their hunt for the rest of the Boeing 777 and its flight data and cockpit voice recorders. The plane was supposed to fly from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing but turned away from its route soon after takeoff and flew for several hours before crashing.
Malaysian officials said earlier this week that satellite data confirmed the plane crashed into the southern Indian Ocean. On Thursday, Malaysia Airlines ran a full-page condolence advertisement with a black background in a major Malaysian newspaper.
“Our sincerest condolences go out to the loved ones of the 239 passengers, friends and colleagues. Words alone cannot express our enormous sorrow and pain,” read the advertisement in the New Straits Times.
Subramaniam Gurusamy, whose son Puspanathan Subramaniam was on the flight, said at this point he seeks “closure.”
“If they never find the body of the plane or anything at all, my heart will always be painful,” he said in Kuala Lumpur. “I will never find the peace. I just need to know this”
Officials still don’t know why Flight 370 disappeared. Investigators have ruled out nothing — including mechanical or electrical failure, hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.
Some speculation has focused on the pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, but his son, in an interview published Thursday in the New Straits Times, rejected the idea that his father might be to blame.
“I’ve read everything online, but I’ve ignored all the speculation,” Ahmad Seth said. “I know my father better.”