MH370: Plane spots object

A New Zealand air force plane had spotted objects in the new search area.

Australian Flight Lieutenant Jason Nichols (L), on board a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion, looks ahead towards the HMAS Success as they search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 debris or wreckage in the southern Indian Ocean on March 22, 2014. Picture: AFP.

SYDNEY/KUALA LUMPUR - An air and sea search for a missing Malaysian passenger jet moved 1,100 km north on Friday, after Australian authorities coordinating the operation in the remote Indian Ocean received new information from Malaysia that suggested the plane ran out of fuel earlier than thought.

The dramatic shift in the search area, moving it further than the distance between London and Berlin, followed analysis of radar and satellite data that showed the missing plane had travelled faster than had been previously calculated, and so would have burned through its fuel load quicker.

Australia said late on Friday that a New Zealand air force plane had spotted objects in the new search area. The sightings would need to be confirmed by ship, which was not expected until Saturday, the Australian Maritime and Safety Authority (AMSA) said.

"We're still waiting on imagery ourselves," said an AMSA spokesman.

The latest twist underscores the perplexing and frustrating hunt for evidence in the near three-week search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished from civilian radar screens less than an hour into a Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight.

Malaysia says the plane was likely diverted deliberately but investigators have turned up no apparent motive or other red flags among the 227 passengers or the 12 crew.

Malaysian officials said the new search area was the result of a painstaking analysis of Malaysian military radar data and satellite readings from British company Inmarsat carried out by US, Chinese, British and Malaysian investigators.

Engine performance analysis by the plane's manufacturer Boeing helped investigators determine how long the plane could have flown before it ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean, they said.

"Information which had already been examined by the investigation was re-examined in light of new evidence drawn from the Inmarsat data analysis," Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a news conference.

AIRCRAFT RE-DIRECTED

For more than a week, ships and surveillance planes have been scouring seas 2,500 km southwest of Perth, where satellite images had shown possible debris from Flight MH370, which went missing on 8 March.

Ten aircraft searching on Friday were immediately re-directed to the new area of 319,000 sq km, roughly the size of Poland, around 1,850 km 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 new search area is larger, but closer to 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 Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said earlier that the shift was based on analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca. At that time, the Boeing 777 was making a radical diversion west from its course.

Malaysia's civil aviation chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said at Friday's news conference he was "not at liberty" to give the exact path of the aircraft. Officials close to the investigation told Reuters last week that the plane may have passed close to Port Blair, the capital of India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands, 885 km further northwest from where Malaysia has said its military radar last detected it.

SATELLITE IMAGES

The shift 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.

Images had shown suspected debris, including pieces as large as 24 metres, 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.

Hishammuddin said it was still possible that those objects were debris from the plane, as any wreckage could have been swept hundreds of miles from the crash site by now.

The US Navy said on Friday it was sending a second P8-Poseidon, its most advanced maritime surveillance aircraft, to help in the search.

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.