Missing Malaysia Airlines flight: New search area identified
Friday, March 28, 2014, 1:53 PM -
Nearly three weeks after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, the focus of the hunt for the missing passenger jet has moved yet again.
Search teams have shifted to a different part of the southern Indian Ocean after Australian authorities said they received "a new credible lead" about the jetliner's most likely last movements.
An analysis of radar data led investigators to move the search to an area 1,100 kilometers to the northeast of where efforts had been focused previously, the Australian maritime safety authority said Friday.
It described the new information, which indicated the errant jetliner didn't fly as far south as previously thought, as "the most credible lead to where debris may be located."
That means the huge, isolated areas of the ocean that ships and planes had combed for more than a week -- and where various satellites detected objects that might be debris from the missing plane -- are no longer of interest.
"We have moved on from those search areas," said John Young, general manager of emergency response for the Australian Maritime Authority.
The new search area is "considerable" and conditions there "remain challenging," acting Malaysian transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters Friday.
The sudden change of geographic focus is the latest twist in an investigation that has so far failed to establish why flight 370 flew dramatically off course or exactly where the plane and the 239 people it was carrying ended up.
"To me, it's not a game changer, it's a reset," David Gallo of the woods hole oceanographic institution said of the shifted search.
Hishammuddin said that Malaysian authorities have ensured that "no stones are unturned" in the search.
A Royal Australia Air Force (RAAF) C-17 lands at RAAF Base Pearce in Bullsbrook to deliver a Australian Sea Hawk helicopter to join a Royal Australian Navy ship to leave Fremantle shortly to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the Indian Ocean, on March 28, 2014. A multinational fleet of planes and ships raced to a fresh search zone after a 'credible new lead' that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was flying faster than first thought before it plunged into the remote Indian Ocean. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
"I don't think we would've done anything different from what we have done," he said.
The previous searches were based on the information authorities "had at the time," Young said.
"That's nothing unusual for search and rescue operations," he said, "And this actually happens to us all the time -- that new information may arise out of sequence with the search itself."
The shifting hunt for the plane has spanned oceans and continents over the past three weeks.
It started in the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam, where flight 370 lost contact with air traffic controllers.
As news of the disappearance spread, authorities became aware of Malaysian military radar data suggesting the plane might have turned west after contact was lost. As a result, they expanded the search out into the strait of Malacca, off the west coast of the Malay peninsula.
As those efforts proved fruitless, the search spread north into the Andaman sea and northern Indian Ocean.
It then ballooned dramatically after Malaysia announced on March 15 that satellite data suggested the plane's last position was somewhere along two huge arcs, one stretching northwest into the Asian landmass, the other southwest into the Indian Ocean.
The total search area at that point reached almost 8 million square kilometres.
On Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that further analysis of satellite data had led authorities to conclude that the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean, far from land.
Malaysian officials told the families of those on board that nobody would have survived, but many relatives have said that only the discovery of wreckage from the plane will convince them of the fate of their loved ones.