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New satellite images raise hope of retrieving Malaysian jet debris

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BEIJING — Malaysian authorities said Wednesday that they were encouraged by new images from European satellites showing 122 floating objects off the Australian coast that could be debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.

The discovery bolstered hope of finding wreckage from the Boeing 777, believed to have crashed March 8 in the choppy seas 1,500 miles southwest of Perth. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said Thursday morning that 11 aircraft and five ships from the U.S., Australia, China and Japan had resumed the search, which will cover 30,000 square miles.

The latest satellite photos, provided by Airbus Defense & Space, were taken Sunday. One object was estimated to be 78 feet long, similar to debris spotted earlier by an Australian satellite, while others were brightly colored, possibly indicating they were life preservers or rafts.

"This is still the most credible lead that we have," Malaysia's transportation minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said at a news conference Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur, the capital. "It corroborates that there is some form of debris. If we can confirm it came from [Flight] MH370, we can move on to the next phase of deep-sea surveillance, search and rescue."

"Hope against hope," he added, a nod to Chinese families of passengers who have not accepted Malaysia's conclusion that the jet crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.

The U.S. Navy, meanwhile, is sending an advanced underwater drone outfitted with sonar equipment to the area aboard the Seahorse Standard, a Royal Australian Navy ship.

The 16-foot, 1,650-pound unmanned submarine, built by Bluefin Robotics Corp. of Quincy, Mass., dives as deep as 14,763 feet. It can carry side-scan sonar arrays or a still camera, both designed to create detailed images of what lies below the surface. The Navy said it expected to deploy the sonar first.

In Beijing, the increasingly angry families held a news conference outside the Lido Hotel, accusing the Malaysian government of concealing the truth about the plane, which disappeared after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.

"Malaysia Airlines tried to deceive people all over the world!" yelled 30-year-old Wang Zhen, whose parents were aboard the plane. "We hope we can expose the lies of Malaysia Airlines to the world and hope they can keep their promise soon."

During a briefing with Malaysia's ambassador to China, Iskandar Sarudin, family members demanded that the Malaysian government retract its conclusion, announced Monday night by the prime minister, that the flight was lost and there were no survivors.

The hysteria in China is being fueled in part by rumors circulating on micro-blogs that the flight is being held by hijackers and that Malaysia has refused to pay the ransom. U.S. officials say they have found no evidence of terrorism.

Indirectly chastising the Chinese, Malaysia's Hishammuddin noted that Australian relatives were behaving in a manner that is "very rational" and that "we in Malaysia also lost our loved ones."

Australia is leading the multinational search effort.

"The crash zone is as close to nowhere as it's possible to be, but it's closer to Australia than anywhere else," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday.

He said he believed the debris spotted by satellites came from the missing plane. "Bad weather and inaccessibility has so far prevented any of it being recovered, but we are confident that some will be."

In Washington, meanwhile, FBI Director James B. Comey said technical experts at the agency's laboratory in Quantico, Va., "very shortly" would be able to retrieve computer files that were deleted from a home flight simulator by the pilot of the missing airliner.

"I get briefed on it every morning," Comey told a House subcommittee on appropriations, suggesting that the deleted files might provide new clues to the plane's disappearance. "We have teams working on it around the clock. I expect it to be done very shortly, within a day or two."

barbara.demick@latimes.com

william.hennigan@latimes.com

Demick reported from Beijing and Hennigan from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Richard A. Serrano in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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