Australia announced Friday that the search area for the Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared March 8 has shifted to a new Indian Ocean region, 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the northeast of where planes and ships had been trying to find any sign of it.
WHY THE SHIFT?
Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, says a new credible lead has come to light based on continuing analysis of radar data of the aircraft's movement between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before it disappeared. It indicates the plane was traveling faster than was previously thought, resulting in increased fuel usage and reducing the possible distance it traveled south.
Two sets of data were compared: the "pinging" from a satellite to the aircraft, which gives the approximate location of the plane within the "arc" stretching from Malaysia to the southern Indian Oean, and the various projections of aircraft performance, in particular speed and fuel consumption. That resulted in the "best assessment of the area where it entered the water," Dolan said.
Dolan said that he previous analysis had a range of possible assumptions about aircraft speed, and those assumptions have now been refined. Dolan could not say exactly how much faster the plane is believed to have been traveling, compared to earlier estimates.
According to John Young, manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's emergency response division, this kind of twists and turns "is the normal business of search and rescue operations."
Dolan added: "This will remain a somewhat inexact science."
NEW SEARCH AREA:
The new search zone is both closer to western Australia — and therefore easier for search crews to reach — and does not have the same harsh weather conditions as the old search location.
Robin Beaman, a marine geologist and research fellow at Australia's James Cook University, said the new information means any debris that has sunk is likely to be in deeper water than previously thought, perhaps about 4,600 meters (15,100 feet) rather than 3,000 meters (9,842 feet).
Images that have emerged from various satellites "may or may not be objects," and none of them have actually been spotted by searchers, Young said.