New 'credible lead' shifts MH370 search area

Last updated 16:14 28/03/2014

China sends a special envoy, Zhang Yesui, to Malaysia to discuss the investigation into missing flight MH370, as angry relatives criticise Kuala Lumpur's handling of the crisis. Sarah Toms reports.

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Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott says there's a credible new lead in the search for the Malaysia Airlines jet, which went missing almost three weeks ago.

Abbott has been briefed on new radar data analysis which has prompted authorities to shift the search area 1100 kilometres to the northeast, following updated advice from the international investigation team in Malaysia.

Four planes and one ship, a Chinese Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) patrol ship, Haixun 01, were now searching in the new area and five other ships were headed there, John Young, manager of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s emergency response division, said.

The search zone is now about 319,000sqkm and some 1850km west of Perth.

The analysis is of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before contact with MH370 was lost.

"This is a credible new lead and will be thoroughly investigated," Abbott said in a statement on Friday.

The new radar analysis seems to contradict revelations that a British Inmarsat satellite picked up hourly "pings" from MH370 for close to seven hours after its communications system was shut down.

The last ping, or "handshake", from the jet was picked up at 8.11am on March 8, suggesting it made a long journey and probably ran out of fuel before crashing.

Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak relied on the information to announce that the Boeing 777-200 jet had ditched deep in the southern Indian Ocean. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said it indicated the aircraft was travelling faster than previously estimated, resulting in increased fuel usage and reducing the possible distance it travelled south into the Indian Ocean.

"The potential flight path may be the subject of further refinement as the international investigative team supporting the search continues their analysis," AMSA said in a statement.

The Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation is re-tasking satellites to image the new area.

The new area is shallower, with water depths ranging from 2000 to 4000 metres. The search area is almost as large as Malaysia itself, which has a land mass of 328,000 square km.

The search has been hampered by bad weather twice this week but conditions improved on Friday morning as search aircraft began departing from RAAF Base Pearce, near Perth, after 6am.

There are nine military aircraft, including two Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P3 Orions, a Japanese Coast Guard jet, a Japanese P3 Orion, a Republic of Korea P3 Orion, a Republic of Korea C130 Hercules, a Royal New Zealand Air Force P3 Orion, a Chinese military Ilyushin IL-76, and a US Navy P8 Poseidon aircraft.

One civil aircraft will as a communications relay in the search area.

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Another RAAF P3 Orion is on standby at Base Pearce.

-Agencies

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