Crews Widen Search For Missing Jetliner


UPDATED: Friday March 28, 2014 5:58 AM

PERTH, Australia - CBS NEWS - Planes are searching a new area of the Indian Ocean for possible signs of the missing Malaysian airliner after a new analysis of radar data suggested 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 northeast of where planes and ships had been trying to find any sign of it.

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

"This is an extraordinarily difficult search, and an agonizing wait for family and friends of the passengers and crew," he said. "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."

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 1,550 miles southwest of Perth, Australia, the launching base for the search.

AMSA said the change in search areas came from new work on radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost with Flight 370 early on March 8.

"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 about whether 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 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.

Planes have been flying out of Perth for a week, seeing a few small objects that might or might not be from the plane and nothing of the possible debris fields spotted by satellites. Even the few objects the planes saw seemed to vanish when aircraft went back for another look.

The extreme remoteness of the search area, its frequent high seas and bad weather all complicate the search.

"This is a really rough piece of ocean, which is going to be a terrific issue," said Kerry Sieh, director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore. "I worry that people carrying out the rescue mission are going to get into trouble."

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?"

"Until something is picked up and analyzed to make sure it's from MH370 we can't believe it, but without anything found it's just clues," Steve Wang, whose 57-year-old mother was aboard the flight, said in Beijing. "Without that, it's useless."

Malaysia has been criticized over its handling of one of the most perplexing mysteries in aviation history. Much of the most strident criticism has come from relatives of the Chinese passengers, some of whom expressed outrage that Malaysia essentially declared their loved ones dead without recovering a single piece of wreckage.

Officials still don't know why Flight 370 disappeared. Investigators have ruled out nothing - including mechanical or electrical failure, hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.

On Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey told members of Congress that his investigators should finish in a day or two their analysis of electronics owned by the pilot and co-pilot, work that includes trying to recover files deleted from a home flight simulator used by Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

Some speculation has focused on Zaharie and his state of mind, but his son, in an interview published Thursday in the New Straits Times, rejected the idea that his father might be to blame.

"I've read everything online. But I've ignored all the speculation. I know my father better," Ahmad Seth said.