After 6 1/2 weeks of false leads and conflicting information about what may have happened to the jet and the 239 people on board, Wednesday's headlines about the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 need to be viewed with considerable caution:
-- " 'Object of interest' found on Western Australian coast." (CNN.com)
-- "MH370 search: Debris washed up on WA coast to be investigated." (The Sydney Morning Herald)
Even CNN, which continues to report every bit of news about the missing plane, is approaching this latest development with some wariness:
"Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan described the object as appearing to be sheet metal with rivets.
" 'It's sufficiently interesting for us to take a look at the photographs,' he said.
"But Dolan also added strong words of caution: 'The more we look at it, the less excited we get.' "
The Australian government, meanwhile, is circumspect:
"Western Australia Police have attended a report of material washed ashore 10 kilometres east of Augusta and have secured the material.
"The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is examining the photographs of the material to determine whether further physical analysis is required and if there is any relevance to the search of missing flight MH370.
"The ATSB has also provided the photographs to the Malaysian investigation team.
"No further information is available at this time."
Update at 11:20 a.m. ET. No "Identifiable Writing":
"The Officer-in-Charge at the Busselton Police Station said an object in their possession, which washed up on a beach at Scott River near Augusta, was eight feet tall, half a metre wide [1.6 feet] and was an alloy type of metal," Australia's Busselton-Dunsborough Mail reports. "Senior Sergeant Steve Principe said the person who found the object initially held on to it for a day or two before taking it to the Busselton Regional Airport for inspection. The object was subsequently passed on to the Busselton police who took possession of it on Wednesday. Snr. Sgt. Principe also said the object did not have any identifiable writing on it."
Augusta is about 200 miles south of Perth.
Resuming our original post, as we've said before:
The jet was about one hour into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in the early morning hours of March 8 (local time) when it was last heard from. Flight 370 was headed north over the Gulf of Thailand as it approached Vietnamese airspace.
Investigators believe the plane turned west, flew back over the Malay Peninsula, then out over the Indian Ocean before turning south toward Australia. They're basing those conclusions largely on data collected by a satellite system that received some information from the aircraft. The critical question — why did it turn? — remains unanswered.
Poor weather grounded the aerial search for the jet today. But 12 ships continued the search in the Indian Ocean, about 1,000 miles northwest of Perth, Australia.