MH370: Search zone shifts 1,100km northeast

MH370: Search zone shifts 1,100km northeast

SINGAPORE - Australian authorities have shifted the search area for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 approximately 1,100km to the northeast, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said yesterday.

The acting transport minister said the new search zone 1,850km west of Perth, Australia, was still in the south Indian Ocean where the aircraft, missing since March 8, was believed to have crashed.

"Because of ocean drift, this new search area could still be consistent with the potential objects identified by various satellite images over the past week," he said.

Up to 300 objects, potentially from the missing aircraft, have been spotted around 2,500km southwest of Perth by Australian, Chinese and French satellites in the past week.

More satellite images of potential objects in the same area were released by Japanese and Thai authorities yesterday. However, aircraft and ships had yet to recover any of the debris.

According to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), the shift in the search areas was based on updated advice given by an international technical working group, comprising agencies with satellite communications and aircraft performance expertise, such as Boeing, Rolls-Royce and the United States' Federal Aviation Administration and National Transport and Safety Board (NTSB).

Hishammuddin said the working group had been working to refine data recorded by British satellite service provider Inmarsat, which determined last week that MH370 had flown south to the middle of the Indian Ocean, where it was presumed to have crashed about six hours after losing radar contact.

Based on continuing analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before contact was lost, the working group found evidence that MH370 flew at a higher speed than previously believed.

This meant that it used more fuel and could not travel as far south as previously believed.

NTSB then passed the information to Australia's Rescue Coordination Centre in Perth to refine and narrow the search area, which is now approximately 319,000 square kilometres.

"The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), Australia's investigation agency, has examined this advice and determined that this is the most credible lead to where debris may be located," AMSA said in a statement yesterday.

The Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation is re-tasking satellites to take images of the new area.

Hishammuddin said information that had been looked at was re-examined in light of new evidence drawn from the Inmarsat data analysis and that more refinements were under way.

"This is standard practice in a search operation. It is a process of continually refining data which in turn further narrows the search area. "With each step, we get closer to understanding MH370's flight path."

He said Australia continued to lead search operations in the southern corridor and that any changes would be decided and announced by Australian authorities.

Weather conditions have improved in the area and 10 aircraft were deployed in yesterday's search.

Nevertheless, Hishammuddin reiterated that the search operations remained difficult due to weather changes and vastness of the areas to be covered.

"The new search area, although more focused than before, remains considerable, and that the search conditions, although easier than before, remain challenging.

"Even on a clear day, the debris (spotted by satellite) more often than not was no longer where they were. For the families of those on board, we pray that further processing of data, and further progress in the search itself, brings us closer to finding MH370."

He said police investigations into the aircraft's disappearance were still ongoing, and that new findings could not be revealed despite requests from families of Chinese passengers for more information.

"If they could, I think the police would (release information). But I believe they would not do it just to relieve emotions (that are running high).

"Whatever that is released must not affect present day investigations, which have now taken an international perspective."

"Dealing with families is very complex. You cannot look at one particular aspect and expect everyone to calm down."

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