SYDNEY/PERTH, March 28 (Reuters) - An international air and
sea taskforce hunting for the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines
Flight MH370 was re-directed on Friday to an area
1,100 km (685 miles) north of where they have been searching for
more than a week, after Australian authorities received new
radar information from Malaysia.
The dramatic shift in the search area, moving it further
than the distance between London and Berlin, followed analysis
of radar data that showed the missing plane had travelled
faster, and so would have run out of fuel quicker, than
The new search area is larger, but closer to the Australian
west coast city of Perth, allowing aircraft to spend longer on
site by shortening travel times. It is also vastly more
favourable in terms of the weather as it is out of the deep sea
region known as the Roaring 40s for its huge seas and frequent
"I'm not sure that we'll get perfect weather out there, but
it's likely to be better more often than what we've seen in the
past," John Young, general manager of the emergency response
division of Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), told
reporters, adding the previous search site was being abandoned.
"We have moved on from those search areas to the newest
credible lead," he said.
For more than a week, ships and surveillance planes have
been scouring seas 2,500 km (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth,
where satellite images had suggested there could be debris from
Flight MH370, which went missing on March 8 with 239 people
Ten aircraft searching on Friday were immediately
re-directed to the new area of 319,000 sq km (123,000 sq miles),
roughly the size of Poland, around 1,850 km (1,150 miles) west
of Perth. The Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation
was also redirecting satellites there, AMSA said.
A flotilla of Australian and Chinese ships would take longer
to shift north, however, with the Australian naval ship the HMAS
Success not due to arrive until Saturday morning.
The shift was based on analysis of radar data between the
South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca, the Australian
Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said.
At that time, the Boeing 777 was making a radical
diversion west from its course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
ATSB Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan said radar and
satellite polling data had been combined with information about
the likely performance of the aircraft, speed and fuel
consumption in particular, to arrive at the best assessment of
the area in which the aircraft was likely to have entered the
An international investigative team continued to analyse the
data, Dolan said, which "could result in further refinement of
the potential flight path of MH370".
The latest twist underscores the perplexing and frustrating
hunt for evidence in the near three-week search. It comes less
than a day after the latest reports of sightings of possible
wreckage, captured by Thai and Japanese satellites in roughly
the same frigid expanse of sea as earlier images reported by
France, Australia and China.
Satellite images had shown suspected debris, including
pieces as large as 24 metres (70 ft), within the original search
area in the southern Indian Ocean.
Potential debris has also been seen from search aircraft,
but none has been picked up or confirmed as the wreckage of
Flight MH370, which disappeared from civilian radar screens less
than an hour after taking off.
Officials believe someone on board may have shut off the
plane's communications systems before flying it thousands of
miles off course, where it crashed into the ocean in one of the
most isolated and forbidding regions on the planet.
Theories range from a hijacking to sabotage or a possible
suicide by one of the pilots, but investigators have not ruled
out technical problems.
David Brewster, a visiting fellow at the Strategic and
Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University,
said it was surprising that the new data analysis was just
coming to light.
"The Malaysians have never really had to handle a search and
rescue operation of this nature before so it is maybe
complicated by lack of experience," Brewster said.
"There is no doubt they haven't got their systems working
smoothly in terms of sharing within Malaysian organisations or
with neighbouring countries."
The U.S. Navy said on Friday it was sending a second
P8-Poseidon, its most advanced maritime surveillance aircraft,
to help in the search.
"It's critical to continue searching for debris so we can
reverse-forecast the wind, current and sea state since March 8
to recreate the position where MH370 possibly went into the
water," said Commander Tom Moneymaker, a U.S. 7th Fleet
The United States has also sent a device that can be towed
behind a ship to pick up faint pings from the plane's black box
voice and data recorders, but time is running out.
"We've got to get this initial position right prior to
deploying the Towed Pinger Locator since the MH370's black box
has a limited battery life and we can't afford to lose time
searching in the wrong area," Moneymaker said.
The prolonged and so far fruitless search and investigation
have taken a toll, with dozens of distraught relatives of 150
Chinese passengers clashing with police and accusing Malaysia of
"delays and deception".
Chinese insurance companies have started paying compensation
to the families of passengers, some of the firms and state media
(Additional reporting by Suilee Wee in Beijing, Niluksi
Koswanage in Kuala Lumpur, Stanley White in Tokyo, Amy Sawitta
Lefevre in Bangkok and Lincoln Feast in Sydney; Editing by Dean
Yates and Alex Richardson)