Malaysian authorities said on Wednesday that they have received satellite images from France showing 122 objects in the Indian Ocean that could be remnants of crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Some of the objects appeared bright, which means that they could be made of solid material. Others measured up to 75 feet in length, suggesting they could be part of an airplane wing. The objects were all seen within an area of about 249 square miles, and are located about 1,588 miles from Perth, Australia, where other floating objects have been seen.
"This is another new lead that will help direct the search operation," said the country's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, adding that it's “the most credible lead that we have.” Hussein said the images had been passed on to Australian search missions.
The New York Times, however, warns that the Indian Ocean just might be too full of debris for sights of objects to serve as beacons of hope in the search:
“Any search and rescue attempt will be hampered by untold quantities of debris,” said Charles Moore, a sailor who studies marine debris at the Algalita Marine Research Institute in Long Beach, Calif. Even with relatively high-resolution satellite imaging, he said, “you are going to be confounded by the detritus of civilization.” Nicholas Mallos, a marine debris specialist with the Ocean Conservancy, an advocacy group in Washington, said that among the larger items found in the world’s oceans are mattresses, docks, crates, containers and tangled masses of abandoned fishing nets, buoys and other gear. Even “ghost” fishing ships, 30 to 50 feet long, have washed up on coasts, he said.
Rough weather conditions have finally improved, and the search area has been narrowed and split into two regions, which will hopefully help target the investigation. The U.S. Navy has also brought black box detectors to the search region, hoping to be able to find the key instrument, if at all possible. Information from the black box could shed light on what happened on the plane, which, after more than two weeks of looking for MH370, remains a mystery. However, the batteries that power the black box and allow it to send out a beacon only last 30 days.
But at least one more detail emerged last night that could serve as a clue. Officials from Inmarsat, the satellite company that offered analysis showing the plane had crashed in the Indian Ocean, say the detected a "partial ping" from the satellite roughly 8 minutes after the last automatic signal was sent out.
Malaysian officials said the signal could have been "evidence of a partial handshake between the aircraft and ground station," adding that "at this time this transmission isn't understood and is subject to further ongoing work." If that's correct, it could give one more important clue to the plane's final location.
The Wall Street Journal gives some some more detail:
The final partial transmission from the missing Boeing 777-200ER, which disappeared from civilian radar on March 8, "originates with the aircraft for reasons not understood," said Chris McLaughlin, senior vice president of Inmarsat, which operates the satellite. The company is investigating the partial ping —or digital handshake between the jet and the satellite —as "a failed login" to its satellite network or as a "potential attempt by the system [aboard the aircraft] to reset itself," Mr. McLaughlin said. The cause of the partial ping could have several possible explanations, he added, but that human interaction with the satellite communications system had been ruled out.
Again, the clue doesn't offer much. Meanwhile, as the international search continues, some families hold on to slivers of hope that relatives aboard the plane could yet be alive.