PERTH, Australia – Planes are searching a new area of the Indian Ocean for possible signs of the Malaysian airliner after a new analysis of radar data suggests the plane flew faster than thought and used up more fuel, which may have reduced the distance it traveled, Australia said Friday.
Based on the new information, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said it had shifted the search area for the jet that disappeared nearly three weeks ago to a region 680 miles to the northeast of where planes and ships had been trying to find any sign of it.
Four search planes were in the area Friday, and six ships were headed there, said John Young, manager of AMSA's emergency response division, adding they had moved on from the previous search area, some 2,500 kilometers southwest of Perth, Australia, the launching base for the search.
AMSA said the change in search areas came from new information based on continuing analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost with Flight 370 early on March 8.
The analysis indicated the aircraft was travelling faster than previously estimated, resulting in increased fuel use and reducing the possible distance the aircraft could have flown into the Indian Ocean.
"This is our best estimate of the area in which the aircraft is likely to have crashed into the ocean," said Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
The new search area is more than 600 miles north of an area in which apparently floating objects were spotted by Japanese, Thai and French satellites earlier this week. Most of the objects measured from about 3 feet to about 65 feet.
Young said those satellite images "may or may not actually be objects," and acknowledged that the search had moved away from that previous area.
He said it not unusual to make such changes and dismissed questions that the earlier searches had been a wasted effort.
"This is the normal business of search and rescue operations – that new information comes to light, refined analyses take you to a different place," Young told reporters. "I don't count the original work as a waste of time."
The new area is 123,000 square miles and about 1,250 miles west of Perth. The sea depth in the new area ranged from 6,560 feet to 13,120 feet, Young said.
Australia's HMAS Success and five Chinese vessels were on their way, and that the Success was expected to arrive there late Saturday night, he added.
Strong winds and currents have made it difficult to pinpoint objects spotted so far, and the search has yet to produce any trace of the plane.
Malaysian officials said earlier this week that satellite data confirmed the plane crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.
Authorities are rushing to find any piece of the plane to help them locate the so-called black boxes, or flight data and voice recorders, that will help solve the mystery of why the jet, en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, flew so far off-course. The battery in the black box normally lasts about a month.
For relatives of the 239 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the various clues and failed searches so far have just added to their agonizing waits.
Wang Zhen, whose parents were aboard the missing plane, said in a telephone interview in Beijing that he was becoming exasperated.
"There is nothing I can do but to wait, and wait," he said. "I'm also furious, but what is the use of getting furious?"
Ng reported from Kuala Lumpur. Associated Press writers Scott McDonald and Gillian Wong in Kuala Lumpur, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.
Planes and ships involved in Malaysia jet search
An intense search for debris from the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 has shifted about 680 miles northeast of the previous search zone in the southern Indian Ocean. A list of the countries taking part and what they have sent to help the operation overseen by Australia from a military base near the southwestern city of Perth:
Four military P-3 Orion planes; four civilian planes; the navy supply ship HMAS Success.
Two Ilyushin IL-76 planes; the polar supply ship Snow Dragon; the warships Kunlunshan, Haikou and Qiandaohu; the patrol ship Haixun 01.
Two military P-3 Orion planes; a coast guard jet.
One military P-3 Orion plane; one civilian plane.
One military P-8 Poseidon plane.
One military P-3 Orion plane; a C-130 Hercules plane.