March 23, 2014 -- New satellite data from the French found objects that could be related to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the French Foreign Ministry confirmed today.
Satellite radar echoes "identified some debris that could be from the Malaysia Airlines plane," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal told the Associated Press.
The echoes, which can be converted into black-and-white images, do not have the same “definition like a photograph, but they do allow us to identify the nature of an object and to localize it," Nadal said.
They were picked up in the same area where earlier satellite images from China and Australia showed what could possibly be parts of the missing plane.
A statement issued today by Malaysian authorities, which described the data as satellite images, said the information was relayed to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's rescue coordination center, but Australian search teams said they didn't find anything related to the missing jet during today's search.
Searchers had returned to the waters and the skies above the Indian Ocean, hoping to find any trace of a pallet or a large object captured by a Chinese satellite that could be from the flight.
"Our plan is to continue seeking -- to make sightings from the visual search, looking for the objects identified in the satellite imagery," John Young, with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, said today.
The pallet, surrounded by several other objects including what appeared to be strapping belts of different colors, was spotted by a civilian search plane Saturday, but has not been closely examined, Mike Barton, chief of Australian Maritime Safety Authority's rescue coordination center, told reporters in Canberra, Australia.
Wooden pallets are commonly used in shipping, but can also be used in cargo containers carried on planes.
"It's still too early to be definite, but obviously, we have now had a number of very credible leads and there is increasing hope, no more than hope, no more than hope, that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen to this ill-fated aircraft," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.
The search for any trace of the plane that vanished March 8 with 239 people on board continued as a senior U.S. official told ABC News that American investigators have settled on three primary theories to explain the disappearance.
The leading theories are:
1. Pilot suicide or other human action;
2. Fire or catastrophic mechanical malfunction;
With terrorism all but ruled out, however, investigators still are leaning toward the vanishing of the passenger jet as "a deliberate act," the official said.
"That's pretty much what everyone thinks," the senior U.S. official, who receives frequent updates on the investigation, told ABC News.
The Obama administration has been cautious all along in the sparse public statements they have made over the past two weeks, beyond pledging to assist the Malaysian government.
Asked about lithium batteries known to be aboard MH370, the official said the amount and weight of the potentially flammable cargo "has been classified" secret by investigators but said it was "comparable to the Dubai jet," referring to UPS Flight 6, which crashed in the United Arab Emirates in late 2010.
Still, the focus of the probe, as ABC's Brian Ross was told a week ago by another senior official, remains primarily on what happened inside the cockpit rather than in the cargo hold, noting that the aircraft is believed to have flown more than seven hours after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 7.
Finding out what happened to the jet and how it vanished seemingly into thin air must be determined by the U.S. in order to ensure it isn't repeated or becomes a national security vulnerability, the official added.
The official spoke after the Chinese government released a satellite image showing a new object floating in the water, another lead for search crews trying to find the missing plane.
China's State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense released the photo of the object, which is reportedly 74 feet long and 43 feet wide. It was spotted about noon Tuesday in the southern Indian Ocean, about 75 miles southwest of the region where images of two objects released by Australia were previously taken.
On Sunday search crews combed 22,780 square miles about 1,500 miles southwest of Perth in search of some sign of the plane. Eight aircraft and the Royal Australian Navy ship the HMAS Success searched the waters, looking for debris or one of the unknown objects spotted in Australian and Chinese satellites earlier this week that officials suspect may be part of the plane.
Fog initially hampered the search but cleared later in the day.
As other ships headed toward the area to contribute to the search, the British Ministry of Defense told ABC News that the British HMS Echo, a hydrographic survey ship, had yet to leave the Persian Gulf and would not arrive for at least 10 days.
An Australian ship that has a remotely-operated mini-submarine was also joining the search, said Malaysian officials.
A small flotilla of ships from China is still several days away. The Malaysian plane passengers included 154 Chinese.
A Norwegian merchant ship that had been asked to divert from its planned course to help search the area was allowed to continue on its planned route to Melbourne, said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
Weather is adding further difficulty to the search efforts. A tropical storm is headed for the search area, Acting Australian Prime Minister Warren Truss said, with strong winds expected.
Satellite images released by Australia showed two objects – the biggest about 80 feet long – in the southern Indian Ocean. Those images were taken March 16, but the search in the area did not start until Thursday, March 20, because it took time to analyze the images.
Aircraft in the Indian Ocean included two ultra-long-range commercial jets and four P3 Orions, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
Because of the distance to the area, the Orions will have enough fuel to search for two hours, while the commercial jets can stay for five hours before heading back to the base.
Malaysia – which is overseeing the overall search efforts – asked the U.S. for undersea surveillance equipment to help in the search, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel promised to assess the availability of the technology and its usefulness in the search, Kirby said.
The Pentagon says it has spent $2.5 million to operate ships and aircraft in the search and has budgeted another $1.5 million for the efforts.
There is a limited battery life for the beacons in the cockpit-voice and flight-data recorders — about 30 days, said Chuck Schofield, vice president of business development for Dukane Seacom Inc. He said it's "very likely" that his company made the beacons on the missing jet. The devices work to a depth of 20,000 feet, with a signal range of about 2 nautical miles, depending on variables like sea conditions. The signals are located using a device operated on the surface of the water or towed to a depth.
Experts say it is impossible to tell if the grainy satellite images of the two objects were debris from the plane. But officials have called this the best lead so far in the search that began March 8 after the plane vanished over the Gulf of Thailand on an overnight flight to Beijing.
Malaysian authorities have not ruled out any possible explanation for what happened to the jet but have said the evidence so far suggests it was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca, with its communications systems disabled. They are unsure what happened next.
Police are considering the possibilities of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or anyone else on board.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.