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Jet Search Shifts as New Lead Shows It Flew Shorter Distance (3)

March 28 (Bloomberg) -- The three-week hunt for Malaysian Air Flight 370 focused on a new area in the Indian Ocean today after new analysis indicated the plane probably flew a shorter distance than earlier estimated.

The new lead, which shifted the search area hundreds of miles, was based on analysis of radar and aircraft-performance data as the plane flew between the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait, authorities said. It showed the Boeing Co. 777-200ER traveled faster than previously estimated, using more fuel, and may not have gone as far south as earlier thought.

“This will remain a somewhat inexact science,” Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said when asked about the speed of the plane. Ongoing analysis of the data “could result in further refinement of the potential flight path of MH370,” he said. The new search location was determined based on an assumption that the plane was traveling at close to constant speed, Dolan said.

The Malaysian aircraft may have cruised steadily across the Indian Ocean after diverting from its scheduled route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, satellite operator Inmarsat Plc spokesman Chris McLaughlin said in an interview last week. The jet flew over the equator and away from the satellite, according to analysis by the company’s engineers, McLaughlin said.

More Time

A New Zealand P3 Orion surveillance plane today spotted objects in the new zone, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said on its Twitter feed. The sightings need to be confirmed by ship, which isn’t expected until tomorrow, the agency said.

The area is about 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles) west of Perth and encompasses 319,000 square kilometers. It’s about 1,100 kilometers to the northeast of the previous search area.

Because the search zone announced today is closer to Perth than the previous locations, aircraft have more time to scour 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. The ocean depth in the new zone ranges from 2,000 meters to 4,000 meters, AMSA said today.

Satellite Images

Satellite sightings have guided the multi-nation search to find the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. aircraft that vanished on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew.

Photos from a Thai satellite on March 24 showed more than 300 objects spanning 2 meters to 15 meters floating about 2,700 kilometers southwest of Perth, in an area close to previous sightings of possible debris. A Japanese satellite detected about a dozen pieces of possible debris in a March 26 image, Kyodo News Service said.

Areas where satellite images had previously shown objects in the ocean were checked and no plane wreckage had been found, Andrea Hayward-Maher, a spokeswoman at the agency, said by phone today.

“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,” Hishammuddin said.

Weather conditions were better and 10 aircraft were tasked to scour the oceans, said John Young, AMSA’s general manager of emergency response.

Multiple Sightings

The determination of the plane’s flight path could be further refined as the investigation team continues its analysis, the Australian agency said.

“This is the most credible lead to where debris may be located,” AMSA said in a statement. An Australian ship and five Chinese vessels were relocating to the new search zone, and the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation is “re-tasking satellites” to scan the area.

The aircraft deployed today included five P3 Orions and a P-8 Poseidon, according to AMSA. The U.S. will send a second P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane to assist in the hunt, that also includes Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, China and Japan.

Since the focus shifted to the south Indian Ocean more than a week ago, planes have made multiple sightings of debris, including a wooden pallet with straps and unidentified green and orange objects, none of which have been recovered.

Pinger Locator

Malaysian Air has said there’s no hope of survivors on the Boeing Co. 777-200ER plane.

The U.S. is sending equipment that can be towed behind a ship to help locate the aircraft’s black boxes, which can emit pings for 30 days after becoming immersed in water. Recovery of the data and cockpit-voice recorders from the 777 would help investigators decipher the plane’s movements and its pilots’ actions in the hours after contact was lost.

The pinger locator and underwater vehicle have arrived in Perth, AMSA said.

Search for debris is critical 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,” Commander Tom Moneymaker, an oceanographer with the U.S. 7th Fleet, said in a Navy News Service article.

“This is still an attempt to search a very large area, and for surface debris, which will give us an indication of where the main aircraft wreckage is likely to be,” Dolan said at a briefing in Canberra. “This has a long way to go yet.”

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