Poor weather conditions have again hampered the search for the missing Malaysian jet as aircraft were forced to suspend operations due to low cloud cover. The setback Thursday came as newly released satellite imagery from Thailand detected hundreds of objects floating in the southern Indian Ocean.
The suspension of operations Thursday highlights the enormous challenge facing the half dozen nations scouring the southern Indian Ocean for missing Malaysian jet MH370, which disappeared March 8.
It was the second occasion this week that the search effort for the flight, with its 239 passengers and crew, had to be suspended due to poor weather.
A Chinese search aircraft, llyushin IL-76, was one of those aircraft forced to return to Perth, Australia, where search operations are being coordinated. Zang Bing, the captain of the aircraft, said the plane had flown as low as 700 meters, but visibility was affected by cloud cover.
Zhang said the aircraft had arrived at the search area on schedule but faced very bad weather conditions and was ordered by Australia to cut short the search and return to base.
Thai satellite detects new objects
Meanwhile, a Thai satellite detected some 300 suspected objects near the search area for the missing Boeing 777. The objects, reported to be between two and 10 meters in size, were photographed three days ago, roughly 200 kilometers away from a previous sighting by a French satellite.
But so far, none of the spotted items have been conclusively linked to the missing aircraft.
Frustration in China
Of the 227 passengers on board the MH370, 153 were Chinese. In China, frustrations over the search effort have led authorities to pressure Malaysian authorities to release more information.
On Thursday in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei again called for more accurate information from Malaysia on the details of the search.
He said China would step up efforts in the search for the missing aircraft, adding that he hoped Malaysia would also improve its communications with China, and work with all relevant countries in the search and console passengers' families.
Some aviation analysts are becoming skeptical of efforts to locate debris more than two weeks after the aircraft went down in a remote part of the Indian Ocean.
Hugh Ritchie, chief executive of Aviation Consultants International, said there is growing doubt that the items captured on satellite imagery are linked to the Boeing 777 jet.
"I'm still relatively skeptical," he said. "I'd be very dubious whether these pieces of flotsam and jetsam that is out there are in actual fact from the aircraft. It's 18 odd days since this occurred - to be still floating put there - most of the things if they were able to float would probably be under the water now anyway, water logged. Air planes of this nature are not built to float."
Searchers are scrambling to locate the main body of the aircraft that contains the “black box” flight and voice recorder, which could contain important clues about the flight’s disappearance. But experts say the device, which sends “pings” when in contact with water, likely only has enough battery to transmit its location for another two weeks.