KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- They are the most tantalizing clues yet: 122 objects spotted by satellite, floating in the turbulent Indian Ocean where officials believe the missing Malaysian jetliner went down. But bad weather, the passage of time and the sheer remoteness of their location kept answers out of the searchers' grasp.
Nineteen days into the mystery of Flight 370, the discovery of the objects that ranged in size from 3 feet to 75 feet offered "the most credible lead that we have," a top Malaysian official said Wednesday.
With clouds briefly thinning in a stretch of ocean known for dangerous weather, aircraft and ships from six countries combed the waters far southwest of the Australian coast. Crews saw only three objects, one of them blue and two others that appeared to be rope.
But search planes could not relocate them or find the 122 pieces seen by a French satellite. Limited by fuel and distance, they turned back for the night.
That echoed the frustration of earlier sweeps that failed to zero in on three objects seen by satellites in recent days. Forecasters warned that the weather was likely to deteriorate again today, possibly jeopardizing the search for the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that vanished early March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Despite those weather concerns, the search resumed at first light today with 11 planes and five ships scouring a search area 1,550 miles southwest of the Australian west coast city of Perth.
With the search in motion, Malaysian officials again sought to assuage the angry relatives of the flight's 153 Chinese passengers. But Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also expressed exasperation. About two-thirds of the missing are Chinese, but Mr. Hishammuddin pointedly said Chinese families "must also understand that we in Malaysia also lost our loved ones," as did "so many other nations."
The latest satellite images, captured Sunday and relayed by French-based Airbus Defense and Space, are the first to suggest a debris field from the plane, rather than just isolated objects. The items were spotted in roughly the same area as other objects previously seen by Australian and Chinese satellites.
Clouds obscured the latest satellite images, but dozens of objects could be seen in the gaps. At a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Mr. Hishammuddin said some of them "appeared to be bright, possibly indicating solid materials."
If the objects are confirmed to be from the flight, "then we can move on to deep sea surveillance search and rescue, hopefully, hoping against hope," Mr. Hishammuddin said.
But experts cautioned that the area's frequent high seas and bad weather and its distance from land complicated an already-trying search.
The search resumed Wednesday after fierce winds and high waves forced crews to take a break Tuesday. Twelve planes and five ships from the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand were participating, hoping to find even a single piece of the jet that could offer tangible evidence of a crash and provide clues to the rest of the wreckage.
Malaysia said Monday that an analysis of the final known satellite signals from the plane showed that it had gone down in the sea, with no survivors.
That data greatly reduced the search zone to an area estimated at 622,000 square miles, about the size of Alaska.
Malaysia has been criticized over its handling of one of the most perplexing mysteries in aviation history. Much of the most strident criticism has come from relatives of the missing Chinese passengers, some of whom expressed outrage that Malaysia essentially declared their loved ones dead without recovering a single piece of wreckage.
At a hotel banquet room in Beijing on Wednesday, a delegation of Malaysian government and airline officials explained what they knew to the relatives. They were met with skepticism and even ridicule by some of the roughly 100 people in the audience, who questioned how investigators could have concluded the direction and speed of the plane. One man later said he wanted to pummel everyone in the Malaysian delegation.
"We still have hope, but it is tiny, tiny," said Ma Xuemei, whose niece was on the flight. "All the information has been confusing and unreliable."
Meanwhile, a U.S.-based law firm filed court documents that often precede a lawsuit on behalf of a relative of an Indonesian-born passenger. The filing in Chicago asked a judge to order Malaysia Airlines and Chicago-based Boeing Co. to turn over documents related to the possibility "negligence" caused the Boeing 777 to crash, including any documentation about the chances of "fatal depressurization" in the cockpit.
Though officials believe they know roughly where the plane is, they don't know why it disappeared shortly after takeoff. Investigators have ruled out nothing -- including mechanical or electrical failure, hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.
On Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey told members of Congress that his investigators have nearly finished their analysis of electronics owned by the pilot and co-pilot, work that includes trying to recover files deleted from a home flight simulator used by Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah.