Several "probably man-made" objects were floating near the suspected crash site of MH370 just weeks after it vanished, Australian researchers revealed Wednesday, more than six months after the hunt for the doomed jet was called off.
A massive underwater search for the Malaysia Airlines plane, which disappeared in March 2014 with 239 people on board, ended in January after no trace of the aircraft was found in a 120,000 square kilometre (46,000 square mile) zone in the remote southern Indian Ocean off Australia's west coast.
But expert research in April and December suggested that MH370 was most likely lying north of that zone, identifying an area of approximately 25,000 square kilometres with the highest probability of containing the wreckage.
On Wednesday, two new studies said photos taken by French military satellites two weeks after the plane's disappearance, but not released to the public, showed at least 70 identifiable objects floating close to the so-called "northern area".
Released by Australia's national science body CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, the reports said 12 of the objects were "probably man made".
The CSIRO used drift analysis to study where the objects may have been on the day the aircraft went missing, and found their projected location to be consistent with the northern area identified in the earlier reports.
But the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which led the search mission, cautioned about drawing conclusions about the source of the objects.
"The image resolution is not high enough to be certain whether the objects originated from MH370 or are other objects that might be found floating in oceans around the world," ATSB's chief commissioner Greg Hood said.
"Clearly we must be cautious. These objects have not been definitely identified as MH370 debris."
Transport Minister Darren Chester welcomed the new reports but added: "It is important to note that it does not provide new evidence leading to a specific location of MH370."
He added that Malaysia remains the lead investigator, and any future requests in relation to searching for MH370 would need to be considered by Australia at that time.
Ocean Infinity, a US seabed exploration firm, said in early August it could resume the hunt, with relatives of passengers aboard the missing flight calling on Malaysia to accept the offer.
Only three fragments of MH370 have been found on western Indian Ocean shores, including a two-metre wing part known as a flaperon.