PERTH: Planes and ships were racing Friday to a fresh search zone after a “credible new lead” that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was flying faster than first thought before it plunged into the remote Indian Ocean.
Ten aircraft from six countries — Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United States — altered their flight paths to an area 1,100 kilometres (685 miles) northeast of where they have been looking for a week, far off western Australia.
Five Chinese ships and an Australian naval vessel were also steaming to the new zone of interest after the weather cleared following the suspension of the search on Thursday due to thunderstorms and high winds, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
“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.”
It follows Thailand reporting Thursday a satellite sighting of hundreds of floating objects. Japan also announced a satellite analysis indicated around 10 square floating objects, although it was not clear if these were in the zones the new search would focus on.
The Thai and Japanese sightings came after satellite data from Australia, China and France had also shown floating objects possibly related to MH370, but nothing has so far been retrieved despite a huge multinational search.
The Boeing 777 mysteriously vanished on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 carrying 239 people.
“This is a credible new lead and will be thoroughly investigated today,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.
“As I have said from the start, we owe it to them to follow every credible lead and to keep the public informed of significant new developments. That is what we are doing,” he added.
The updated advice was provided by an international investigation team in Malaysia with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) determining “that this is the most credible lead to where debris may be located”.
The new search area is approximately 319,000 square kilometres and around 1,850 kilometres west of Perth, and Australia is re-positioning its satellites to focus on the zone.
As the search intensifies, the United States said it was sending a second P-8 Poseidon — an advanced surveillance plane — to Perth, but would not be dispatching a warship.
“We believe — and just as importantly, the Malaysian government believes — that the most important asset that we have that we can help them with are these long-range maritime patrol aircraft,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby.
Thailand’s Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency said it had satellite images taken on Monday of 300 objects, ranging in size from two to 15 metres.
It said they were scattered over an area about 2,700 kilometres (1,680 miles) southwest of Perth, but could not confirm they were plane debris.
Japan’s Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Centre’s study showed the objects it sighted on Wednesday were up to eight metres in length and four metres wide. Jiji Press cited an official at the office as saying they were “highly likely” to be from the plane.
MH370 is presumed to have crashed after diverting from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing path and apparently flying for hours in the opposite direction. Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately redirected by someone on board, but nothing else is known.
The search suspension on Thursday caused mounting concern as the clock ticks on the signal emitted by the plane’s “black box” of flight data.
The data is considered vital to unravelling the flight’s mystery but the signal, aimed at guiding searchers to the device on the seabed, will expire after roughly 30 days, around April 8.
Seeking closure, anguished families of those aboard are desperately awaiting concrete evidence that might unlock one of aviation’s greatest riddles.
Two-thirds of the passengers were from China and relatives there have accused the Malaysian government and airline of a cover-up and of botching the response.
The focus has been on the pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, with the FBI analysing data from a flight simulator taken from his home. Malaysia had sought its help to recover files deleted from the hard drive.
So far, no information implicating the captain or anyone else has emerged. Zaharie’s youngest son Ahmad Seth Thursday dismissed speculation his father may have crashed the plane intentionally.