Thai satellite images have shown 300 floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean during a search for the missing Malaysian airliner, an official said Thursday.
The objects, ranging from two to 15 metres in size, were scattered over an area about 2,700 kilometres southwest of Perth, according to the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency.
“But we cannot – dare not – confirm they are debris from the plane,” the agency’s executive director, Anond Snidvongs, told reporters.
The pictures were taken by Thailand’s only earth observation satellite on Monday but needed several days to process, Anond added.
He said the objects were spotted about 200 kilometres away from an area where French satellite images earlier showed potential objects in the search for the Boeing 777 which vanished on March 8 with 239 people aboard.
Thailand faced criticism after announcing more than a week after the jet’s disappearance that its radar had picked up an “unknown aircraft” minutes after flight MH370 last transmitted its location.
The Thai air force said it did not report the findings earlier as the plane was not considered a threat.
The Malaysia Airlines plane is presumed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean after mysteriously diverting from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing path and apparently flying for hours in the opposite direction.
Thunderstorms and gale-force winds grounded the international air search for wreckage on Thursday.
Severe weather on Thursday halted an air search for a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet presumed crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, frustrating hopes of finding what new satellite images showed could be a large debris field.
However, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said ships would remain in the area and will attempt to continue searching as forecasters warned of 24 hours of bad weather.
An international search team of 11 military and civilian aircraft and five ships had been heading to an area where more than 100 objects that could be from the Boeing 777 had been identified by French satellite pictures earlier this week.
"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.
"Anybody who’s out there is coming home and all additional sorties from here are cancelled."
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the operation, confirmed flights had been cancelled and ships were leaving the search area due to the weather.
A set of satellite images unveiled yesterday showed 122 "potential objects" floating in the ocean, as China's special envoy stressed to Malaysia the need for an "unremitting" search for flight MH370.
In what could be a debris field from Malaysia Airlines' doomed Boeing 777 jet, the objects were estimated to measure between one and 23 metres, and a number appeared "bright".
The images were captured by France-based Airbus Defence & Space on Monday through gaps in the clouds 2,557 kilometres from Perth - close to satellite sightings previously reported by China and Australia.
The objects were contained in an area measuring 400 square kilometres.
Flight MH370 vanished from civilian radar screens less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing on March 8, and investigators believe someone aboard may have shut off the plane's communications systems.
"Some of the objects appeared bright, possibly indicating solid materials," said Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.
"This is the most credible lead we've had so far. [It] seems to corroborate some form of objects and debris and if it is confirmed as MH370, at least we can move on to the next phase of deep-sea surveillance search."
The new images were revealed as relatives of those missing met a Malaysian delegation in Beijing who tried to explain how conclusions were drawn that the plane went down in the sea.
Angry family members questioned the accuracy of a report compiled by British firm Inmarsat and demanded the Malaysians retract a statement that the plane had "ended" in the southern Indian Ocean.
The latest sightings came as search teams stepped up efforts to find some trace of the plane, thought to have crashed with the loss of all 239 people aboard after flying thousands of kilometres off course.
The 469,407 square nautical mile search area, in the "southern corridor" that the jet was believed to have travelled along, has been divided into two areas, east and west. Six countries - Australia, China, New Zealand, the United States, South Korea and Japan - and 12 planes scoured the seas yesterday after the weather improved following the previous day's grounding.
Three actual objects were identified in the sea - two items believed to be rope seen from a civilian plane and a blue object spotted by the crew of a New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
Highlighting the challenges of air-search reconnaissance, none of the objects was seen on subsequent flyovers, AMSA added.
Earlier in the day China's envoy, deputy foreign minister Zhang Yesui , met Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and a host of officials to seek a further insight into the operation, Xinhua reported.
Zhang said he hoped Malaysia would strengthen its information-sharing with China and provide Beijing with the data that led to the conclusion that the "ill-fated flight ended in the southern Indian Ocean", Xinhua said.
At Hishammuddin's daily press briefing in Kuala Lumpur, he was repeatedly asked about relations between Malaysia and China. He denied a rift had opened up between the countries and said Najib was looking forward to his China visit in May.
"Not many countries in the world could get 26 countries to work together," he said. "I think history will judge us well."
Watch: The path Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 took