PEARCE AIR FORCE BASE, Australia – The hunt for Malaysian Air Flight 370 shifted focus for the third time in as many weeks after new analysis indicated the plane could have gone down hundreds of miles from the previous search area.
The lead is based on radar and performance data as the jet flew between the South China Sea and Malacca Strait, authorities said. It shows the Boeing Co. 777 moved faster, using more fuel, and may not have crashed as far south as estimated earlier.
“This will remain a somewhat inexact science,” Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said of the plane’s speed, adding that ongoing analysis “could result in further refinement of the potential flight path.” The new search zone, 700 miles to the northeast, assumes it traveled at close to constant velocity.
A New Zealand P3 Orion surveillance plane was among aircraft that spotted objects in the revised zone today, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said. The sightings need to be confirmed by ship, with one due to arrive there today, it said. The search area is about 1,100 miles west of Perth and spans 124,000 square miles.
Because the search zone is closer to Australia than previous locations, aircraft have more time over the ocean. The hunt also moves outside of the so-called Roaring Forties, a region between the 40th and 50th degrees of latitude south known for strong winds and wave conditions. Ocean depth in the area ranges from 2,000 meters to 4,000 meters.
“This is the most credible lead to where debris may be located,”the maritime authority said.
Five aircraft spotted “multiple objects of various colors” Friday. The New Zealand Orion sighted white or light items and a fishing buoy, with an Australian plane reporting two blue or gray floating objects after relocating the debris.
A second Australian P3 saw colored items in a separate part of the zone.
A Chinese patrol boat, the Haixun 01, is in the area and should be in position to relocate the objects today, when the weather is forecast to be “reasonable,” the agency said. An Australian ship and other Chinese vessels are also relocating to the new zone, and the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organization is retasking satellites to scan the zone, it said.