The search area of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet has shifted northeast of where a multinational team of investigators had been looking for debris because of a "new credible lead," Australian authorities said Friday morning local time.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said it shifted the search roughly 680 miles to the northeast after getting a lead premised on updated advice from the international investigative team in Malaysia.
The new search area is 123,200 square miles and roughly 1,250 miles west of Perth, Australia. It is based on information suggesting the Boeing 777 was “traveling faster than previously estimated, resulting in increased fuel usage and reducing the possible distance the aircraft travelled south into the Indian Ocean,” Australian officials said in a release.
The Australian Geospatial Intelligence Organization has retasked satellites to capture new images of the search area, where weather conditions are more favorable, John Young, the general manager of ASMA’s Emergency Response Division, said at a news conference.
Young said that 10 aircraft have been dispatched to the search area, and six ships were relocating, too. The HMAS Success, a Royal Australian Navy ship, was expected to arrive in the area late Saturday night local time.
In addition to the aircraft and ships, two key assets used to detect the battery-powered “pings” emitted by the plane’s black boxes had arrived off Perth. The U.S. Navy Towed Pinger Locator and the Bluefin-21 underwater drone, which will aid investigators in the painstaking search for the doomed flight’s voice and data recorders, will be fitted to Australian Navy’s Ocean Shield ship when it arrives in the coming days, Young said.
The revised search area comes amid clearer weather Friday (late Thursday ET) in the southern Indian Ocean that will give searchers a better shot at hunting for new clues. Young said the search area had moved out of the so-called Roaring Forties, the strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere that make search and recovery operations that much more grueling.
AMSA said Australian officials have "examined this advice and determined that this is the most credible lead to where debris may be located."
“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 in the release.
When asked by a reporter how fast the plane is now believed to have been going before it plunged into the ocean, Australian Transportation Safety Bureau chief commissioner Martin Dolan said, "This will remain a somewhat inexact science.”
"This is a credible new lead and will be thoroughly investigated today," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.
"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."
Australian officials urged patience Friday. Dolan said: “This is still an attempt to search a very large area. This has a long way to go yet.”
The doomed airliner went missing with 239 people on board March 8 on what should have been a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
First published March 27 2014, 7:24 PM