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New leads in search for jet

NEW satellite images have revealed more than 100 objects in the southern Indian Ocean that could be debris from a Malaysian jetliner missing for 18 days, while planes scouring the search area also reported seeing potential wreckage.

The latest sightings came as searchers stepped up efforts to find some trace of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, thought to have crashed on March 8 with the loss of all 239 people aboard after flying thousands of miles off course.

Malaysian Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said: "We have now had four separate satellite leads, from Australia, China and France, showing possible debris. It is now imperative we link the debris to MH370."

The latest images were captured by France-based Airbus Defence & Space on Monday and showed 122 potential objects in 155sq mile area of ocean.

The objects varied in size from 3ft to 75ft in length.

Flight MH370 vanished from civilian radar screens less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing, and investigators believe someone on the flight may have shut off the plane's communications systems.

A dozen aircraft from Australia, the US, New Zealand, China, Japan and South Korea are scouring the seas some 1550 miles south-west of Perth in the hunt for wreckage after bad weather the previous day forced the suspension of the search.

"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, before leading the country's parliament in a moment's silence.

"A considerable amount of debris has been sighted in the area where the flight was last recorded. Bad weather and inaccessibility have so far prevented any of it from being recovered. But we are confident it will be."

Yesterday's good weather was unlikely to last in an area renowned among mariners for high winds and big waves.

Neil Bennett, of Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, said: "This is only going to be a narrow window of opportunity by the looks of things, because another weather system is moving in for Thursday, which looks like that will bring an increase in winds again and also lead to a reduction in visibility."

The recovery of wreckage could unlock clues about why and how the plane had diverted so far off course in one of aviation's most puzzling mysteries. Theories range from a hijacking to sabotage or a possible suicide by one of the pilots, but investigators have not ruled out technical problems.

Australia, China and France have all released satellite images over the past week showing possible debris in the same general area as the latest sighting, but no confirmed wreckage has been located.

An Australian navy ship returned to the area after being driven away by gale force winds and 60ft waves on Tuesday, while a Chinese icebreaker and three Chinese navy vessels were also in the search zone.

The US has sent an undersea Navy drone and a high-tech black box detector which will be fitted to an Australian Defence vessel due in Perth in the coming days.

Time is running out to pick up locator beacons from the black box which stop about a month after a crash due to limited battery life.

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