KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A freighter used searchlights early Friday to scan rough seas in one of the remotest places on Earth after satellite images detected possible pieces from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane in the southern Indian Ocean.
In what officials called the “best lead” of the nearly two-week-old aviation mystery, a satellite detected two objects floating about 1,000 miles off the coast of Australia and halfway to the desolate islands of the Antarctic.
The development raised new hope of finding the vanished jet and sent another emotional jolt to the families of the 239 people aboard.
One of the objects on the satellite image was almost 80 feet long and the other was 15 feet. There could be other objects in the area, a four-hour flight from southwestern Australia, said John Young, manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s emergency response division.
“This is a lead, it’s probably the best lead we have right now,” Young said. He cautioned that the objects could be seaborne debris along a shipping route where containers can fall off cargo vessels, although the larger object is longer than a container.
Four military planes searched the area Thursday without success but will resume later Friday morning, Australian officials said.
CBS News’ Bob Orr reported Thursday that the objects spotted on the satellite images were at the extreme southern end of the projected southern search corridor, so in an area where all earlier information suggested crews might expect to find the missing jet. He said it was conceivable that the largest object was one of the Boeing 777’s wings. As the flight would have been near the end of its fuel supply in reaching the area, the fuel tanks in the wings would be close to empty, giving the wings added buoyancy.
The Norwegian cargo vessel Hoegh St. Petersburg, with a Filipino crew of 20, arrived in the area and used searchlights after dark to look for debris. It will continue the search Friday, said Ingar Skiaker of Hoegh Autoliners, speaking to
reporters in Oslo.
The Norwegian ship, which transports cars, was on its way from South Africa to Australia, he said. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said another commercial ship and an Australian navy vessel were also en route to the search area.
CBS This Morning” contributor Michio Kaku, a physics professor at the City University of New York, said the area is “quite turbulent, and even a gentle current of five miles an hour could carry debris of hundreds of miles across.”
The search is a “literal race against time,” according to Kaku. “The black box has a beacon, but that beacon has a battery — a battery with a life 30 days,” he explained. “And we’ve already lost two weeks, so of the window of opportunity is closing very rapidly.” Satellite imagery experts said the lead is worth.