The Australia-led search operation for the crashed Malaysian airliner has now shifted 1,100 km further north-east in the southern Indian Ocean following a “new credible lead”, officials said on Friday.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said the search would now focus on an area 1,100 km further north-east in the southern Indian Ocean off the western Australian coast. It said the new information was based on analysis of radar data of the plane before contact was lost.
Malaysian officials have concluded that, based on satellite data, the jet flew into the sea somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean. So far no trace of it has been found. Search efforts had until this morning been focusing on an area some 2,500 km to the south-west of Perth. Using satellite images, several nations have identified objects floating in the sea in that area, but there has been no confirmation as yet that any of them are from the plane.
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A statement from AMSA – which is co-ordinating the search said the latest advice had come from the international investigation team in Malaysia. It said that the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) had examined the advice “and determined that this is the most credible lead to where debris may be located”.
It said that the new search area was about 1,850 km west of Perth and covered some 319,000 sq km. “The new information is based on continuing analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost,” AMSA said. “It indicated that the aircraft was travelling faster than previously estimated, resulting in increased fuel usage and reducing the possible distance the aircraft travelled south into the Indian Ocean.”
The potential flight path could be the subject of further refinement as investigations continued, the AMSA statement said, adding that satellites would now focus on the new area. “This is a credible new lead and will be thoroughly investigated today,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said. The new search zone is closer to Western Australia, which should enable the surveillance aircraft to spend longer scanning the sea for debris, the BBC reported. AMSA said nine military aircraft would be flying out on Friday with a civilian aircraft acting as a communications relay in the search area.
Searches by planes were suspended on Thursday because of bad weather but resumed this morning. Five ships from China and one from Australia are also taking part in the search. The Beijing-bound flight MH370 – carrying 239 people, including five Indians, an Indo-Canadian and 154 Chinese – vanished after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8.