Perth, March 27 (Reuters): High winds and icy weather halted the air search today for a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet presumed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, just as new satellite images emerged showing what could be a large debris field from the plane.
The latest possible sightings of wreckage from Flight MH370, which went missing 19 days ago, were captured by Thai and Japanese satellites in roughly the same remote expanse of sea as earlier images reported by France, Australia and China. “We detected floating objects, perhaps more than 300,” Anond Snidvongs, the head of Thailand's space technology development agency, told Reuters.“We have never said that the pieces are part of MH370 but have so far identified them only as floating objects.”
A Japanese satellite also captured images of 10 objects which could be part of the plane, Kyodo news agency quoted the government as saying on Thursday.
An international search team of 11 military and civilian aircraft and five ships had been heading for an area where more than 100 objects that could be from the Boeing 777 had been identified by French satellite pictures earlier this week, but severe weather forced the planes to turn back.
”The forecast in the area was calling for severe icing, severe turbulence and near-zero visibility,” said Lieutenant Commander Adam Schantz, the officer in charge of the U.S. Navy Poseidon P8 maritime surveillance aircraft detachment.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the effort, confirmed flights had been called off but said ships continued to search despite battering waves.
”It's the nature of search and rescue. It's a fickle beast,” Flying Officer Peter Moore, the captain of an Australian AP-3C Orion, told Reuters aboard the plane after it turned around 600 miles from the search zone.
”This is incredibly important to us. The reality is we have 239 people whose families want some information and closure.”
The so-called black boxes - the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder - record what happens during flight, but time is running out to pick up their locator beacons, which stop about a month after a crash due to limited battery life.
The prolonged and so far fruitless search and investigation have taken a toll, with dozens of distraught relatives of 150 Chinese passengers clashing with police and accusing Malaysia of ”delays and deception”.
China has repeatedly voiced its frustration with the efforts of Malaysia to find the plane. China's special envoy to Malaysia said on Thursday that Beijing was doing its best to push the Southeast Asian nation to coordinate the international search effort, state news agency Xinhua said.
Chinese insurance companies have started paying compensation to the families of passengers, Xinhua reported separately.
The family of Paul Weeks, a New Zealander on board the Malaysia Airlines flight, said they had been angered by the way the airline has dealt with the families of passengers.
”The whole situation has been handled appallingly, incredible insensitivity, lack of information,” Weeks's sister, Sara Weeks, told Radio Live in New Zealand.
She said her brother's wife had only received a text message to say that her husband was presumed dead. (Additional reporting by Suilee Wee in Beijing, Niluksi Koswanage in Kuala Lumpur, Jane Wardell in Sydney, Gyles Beckford in Wellington, Stanley White in Tokyo and Amy Sawitta Lefevre in Bangkok; Writing by Lincoln Feast and Alex Richardson; Editing by Nick Macfie)