MELBOURNE, Australia — Authorities in Australia are investigating two objects in the Indian Ocean spotted by satellite imagery that may be related to the missing Malaysian airliner, in what is being described as the most credible lead in the hunt for the plane that vanished nearly two weeks ago with 239 passengers and crew aboard.
A Norwegian ship was the first vessel to reach the potential search area, the BBC reports.
The objects are "of reasonable size and probably awash with water," John Young, general manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, said during a press conference in Canberra, Australia's capital, on Thursday.
Aircraft and ships traveled to the area to try to locate and examine the objects, one of which has a dimension of 24 meters (almost 80 feet) while the other one was smaller. A U.S. P-8 Poseidon aircraft already is on the scene, Young said.
However, limited visibility and bad weather have caused the search to be scaled back for now.
Earlier, the crew of the Poseidon told ABC News that their aircraft was getting radar hits of "significant size" in water's beneath the surface near the objects but that it was too early to tell if these hits were related to debris from the missing plane.
The area involved is about 1,550 miles southwest of Perth, Australia.
"This is a lead, this is probably the best lead we have right now, but we have to find them, see them, assess them," Young said of the objects.
"If there is a positive ID (of the debris) ... then they (investigators) will likely study and model currents and flows in the ocean as soon as possible to find out where to look for the black boxes. Or, rather, listen for them, as they will likely still be sending out sonar signals at this point (about 30 days after an aircraft goes down)," Sidney Dekker, an expert on aviation safety, told USA TODAY in e-mailed comments.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott informed Malaysian Prime MinisterDato' Seri Majib Najib Razak of the development on Thursday morning, according to Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysian minister of defense and acting minister of transport. Abbott also addressed the Australian parliament about the debris, a move that suggests his government is taking the development seriously.
"Following specialist analysis of this satellite imagery, two possible objects related to the search have been identified," Abbott told parliament. Two Australians were on board the missing jet.
However, Malaysia's Hishammuddin cautioned: "At this stage, Australian officials have yet to establish whether these objects are indeed related to the search for MH370." He reiterated that call for caution during his daily news conference in Kuala Lumpur.
The ASMA's Young said visibility was poor and may hamper efforts to find the objects. He said they "are relatively indistinct on the imagery … but those who are experts indicate they are credible sightings." The images were taken on March 16. It is not immediately clear why they only surfaced today.
Military planes from Australia, the U.S. and New Zealand have been covering a search region over the southern Indian Ocean that was narrowed down from 232,000 square miles to 117,000 square miles.
Separate images released by Beijing last week that appeared to indicate possible plane debris over the South China Seaswere subsequently ruled out.
On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in Washington that the FBI was working with Malaysian authorities. "At this point, I don't think we have any theories," he said.
More than 150 Chinese nationals were on board Flight MH370 that disappeared March 8 on a night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Chinese relatives of missing passengers reacted to the development Thursday with anger at Malaysian authorities, but some still clung to hope their loved ones are alive.
"If something bad really happens, Malaysia cannot avoid its responsibility," Wang Xuhua wrote on the WeChat group set up by relatives. "They have wasted so many days, at this time things are found in unrelated waters, are they not deceiving everybody in the world?"
Lin Xi wrote: "(Maybe) our family members are safe on some island." She also said, "Go to hell Malaysia, you have wasted so many days," sentiments echoed by many other relatives on the social media network.
Some said Malaysia Airlines representatives had called them Thursday to say the objects found by Australian satellites have not yet been confirmed as belonging to Fflight MH370.
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While most Chinese relatives and friends have remained at a hotel in Beijing, some have flown to the Malaysian capital to be closer to developments. Their anger and frustration at lack of hard news boiled over in Kuala Lumpur Wednesday when at least three relatives were bundled away by security after trying to protest to journalists covering a daily press conference by the Malaysian authorities.
One woman from Shanghai, Wu Xia, asked others on WeChat to stay strong: "Thirteen days have passed, all kinds of news, like the debris found today, are gouging and cutting our hearts," she wrote. "Relatives and friends, let's pray together, we must keep a whole heart to face the waiting and life ahead of us."
MacLeod reported from Beijing. Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard in London and Melanie Eversley in McLean, Va.