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Storms ground air search after new debris sighting
Published on: Friday, March 28, 2014

PERTH: Thunderstorms and gale-force winds grounded the international air search for wreckage from Flight MH370 on Thursday, frustrating the luckless effort yet again just as new satellite images of floating objects sparked hopes of a breakthrough.

It marked the second suspension within three days for the planes from several nations that, along with ships, have fought a losing battle against fierce winds and mountainous seas in the remote southern Indian Ocean as they hunt for hard evidence that the plane crashed.

"Today's search operations have been suspended due to bad weather," the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), which is coordinating the search, said on its Twitter account.

The agency initially said ships were leaving the search area along with the planes, but later announced the ships would stay and try to continue the search.

"Bad weather expected for next 24 hours," it tweeted.

Malaysia had said late Wednesday that images taken in recent days by a French satellite showed "122 potential objects" adrift in the vast area, but nothing has been recovered yet that would confirm the plane's fate.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 is presumed to have crashed on March 8 in the Indian Ocean with 239 people aboard after mysteriously diverting from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing path and apparently flying for hours in the opposite direction.

Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately re-directed by someone on board, but nothing else is known.

AMSA had said earlier the new satellite images were in an area authorities have pinpointed as a potential crash zone some 2,500 kilometres (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth.

Six military planes from Australia, China, Japan and the United States had been set to fly sorties throughout Thursday, along with five civil aircraft, scouring two areas covering a cumulative 78,000 square kilometres.

Five ships from Australia and China also were set to resume searching the zone.

The search was also suspended Tuesday due to bad weather, causing mounting concern as the clock ticks on the signal emitted by the plane's "black box" of flight data.

The data is considered vital to unravelling the flight's mystery but the signal, aimed at guiding searchers to the device on the seabed where it hopefully can be recovered, will expire in under two weeks.

The drama is playing out in a wild expanse of ocean described by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott as "about as close to nowhere as it's possible to be", and known for gale-force winds and towering waves.

The new satellite images provided by European aerospace giant Airbus depicted some objects as long as 23 metres (75 feet), Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.

Seeking closure, anguished families of those aboard are desperately awaiting hard evidence, which the aviation industry hopes can also provide clues to what caused one of aviation's greatest mysteries.

US law firm Ribbeck Law Chartered International fired the first salvo Wednesday in an expected barrage of lawsuits on behalf of grieving families. The firm is targeting Malaysia Airlines and Boeing. - AFP

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