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Search for Malaysian plane moves closer to land after new lead

Perth, Mar 28 (Agencies): The search for the crashed Malaysian airliner shifted to a new area 1,100km further north-east in the southern Indian Ocean on Friday, following a “new credible lead” based on fresh radar data, Australian officials said.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said the search would now focus on an area 1,100km further north-east in the southern Indian Ocean off the western Australian coast.

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 storm-force winds.

The AMSA said the new information was based on analysis of radar data from Malaysia of the Boeing 777-200 before contact was lost nearly three weeks ago.

Malaysian officials have concluded that, based on satellite data, the jet flew into the sea somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean. So far no trace of it has been found.

Search efforts had until Friday morning been focusing on an area some 2,500km to the south-west of Perth.

The Beijing-bound jetliner, carrying 239 people, had vanished after taking off from Kuala Lumpur and crashed in the remote southern Indian Ocean, thousands of miles off its scheduled route.

Using satellite images, several nations have identified objects floating in the sea in that area, but there has been no confirmation as yet that any of them are from the plane.

A statement from AMSA -- which is co-ordinating the search -- said the latest advice had come from the international investigation team in Malaysia.

It said that the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) had examined the advice “and determined that this is the most credible lead to where debris may be located”.

It said that the new search area was about 1,850km west of Perth and covered some 319,000sqkm.

“The new information is based on continuing analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost,” AMSA said.

“It indicated that the aircraft was travelling faster than previously estimated, resulting in increased fuel usage and reducing the possible distance the aircraft travelled south into the Indian Ocean.”

The potential flight path could be the subject of further refinement as investigations continued, the AMSA statement said, adding that satellites would now focus on the new area.

“This is a credible new lead and will be thoroughly investigated today,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

The new search zone is closer to Western Australia, which should enable the surveillance aircraft to spend longer scanning the sea for debris, the BBC reported.

AMSA said nine military aircraft would be flying out on Friday with a civilian aircraft acting as a communications relay in the search area.

Meanwhile, Japanese satellite images have shown around 10 floating objects off Australia that are “very probably” from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the government said today.

It was not immediately clear whether the objects spotted by Japan lay within the new zone.

The objects are highly likely to be part of the missing MH370, given their location and their proximity to other finds, an official said.

”We cannot say this for sure, but they are very probably pieces of debris from the Malaysian aircraft,” a Japanese official said.


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