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Australia says planes checking new search area

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 28, 2014 at 4:05 am •  Published: March 28, 2014
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PERTH, Australia (AP) — The search area for the lost Malaysian jetliner moved 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the northeast on Friday, as Australian officials said a new analysis of radar data suggests the plane had flown faster and therefore ran out of fuel more quickly than previously estimated.

That means searchers have concluded that hundreds of floating objects detected over the last week by satellite, previously considered possible wreckage, weren't from the plane after all. But there are advantages to the new search area: It's closer to land and has calmer weather than the old one.

Nine planes were to fly over the new search area Friday and six ships were headed there, said John Young, manager of Australian Maritime Safety Authority emergency response division. "We have moved on" from the previous search area, he said.

AMSA said the change in search areas came from new information based on continuing analysis of the radar data received soon after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 lost communications and veered from its scheduled path March 8. The Beijing-bound flight carrying 239 people turned around soon after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, flew west toward the Malacca Strait and disappeared from radar.

The search area has changed several times since the plane vanished as experts analyzed a frustratingly small amount of data from the aircraft, including the radar signals and "pings" that a satellite picked up for several hours after radar contact was lost.

The latest analysis indicated the aircraft was traveling faster than previously estimated, resulting in increased fuel use and reducing the possible distance the aircraft could have flown before going down in the Indian Ocean. Just as a car loses gas efficiency when driving at high speeds, a plane will get less out of a tank of fuel when it flies faster.

Planes and ships had spent a week searching about 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) southwest of Perth, Australia, the base for the search. Now they are searching about 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles) west of the city.

"This is our best estimate of the area in which the aircraft is likely to have crashed into the ocean," Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said at a news conference in Canberra.

He said a wide range of scenarios went into the calculation. "We're looking at the data from the so-called pinging of the satellite, the polling of the satellites, and that gives a distance from a satellite to the aircraft to within a reasonable approximation," he said. He said that information was coupled with various projections of aircraft performance and the plane's distance from the satellites at given times.

Dolan said the search now is for surface debris to give an indication of "where the main aircraft wreckage is likely to be. This has a long way to go."

The new search area is about 80 percent smaller than the old one, but it remains large: about 319,000 square kilometers (123,000 square miles), about the size of Poland.

Sea depths in the new area range from 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) to 4,000 meters (13,120 feet), Young said. There are trenches in the area that go even deeper, Australia's national science agency said in a statement. That includes the Diamantina Trench, which is up to 7,300 meters deep, but it was unclear whether the deepest parts of the trench are in the search area.

Young such a change in search area is not unusual.

"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."

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