U.S.: Ship Hunting for Jet Moves; Search Area May Expand

The guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd, shown here in a file photo, has been redeployed to the Strait of Malacca in the search for the missing airliner.U.S. Navy photo / U.S. Navy

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The guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd is being redeployed to the Strait of Malacca off Malaysia's west coast amid reports the search for the missing jet could stretch into the vastness of the Indian Ocean.

As the Kidd is sent to join a U.S. search plane west of the Malaysian peninsula — opposite the airliner's intended course — White House spokesman Jay Carney said officials have been given new information about an additional search area in the Indian Ocean that could be be opened.

"It's my understanding that based on some new information that's not necessarily conclusive — but new information — an additional search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean," Carney said during Thursday's White House briefing. U.S. teams on the ground there would continue to offer support as needed, he added.

"We are consulting with international partners about the appropriate assets to deploy," he said.

Carney did not give any details about the information the White House had received.

"We're looking at information, pursuing possible leads, working within the investigation being led by the Malaysian government," he said.

A Navy P-3 anti-submarine warfare plane, which has been searching the Strait of Malacca for several days, found no clues or debris.

As for expanding the search region into the Indian Ocean, one senior defense official said, “We may be parsing words here. The Strait (of Malacca) leads into the IO (Indian Ocean), so as you widen the search, it’s a logical transition."

The official had no information as to how far the search may extend.

The developments underscored the lack of details that has haunted the investigation since the start: The move of the USS Kidd comes at the request of Malaysian authorities, but not because they have any specific evidence or believe that is where the plane crashed, officials said.

The Kidd and a second destroyer, USS Pinckney, have been searching waters just south of the Gulf of Thailand where the airliner was last tracked before it vanished without a trace early Saturday.

Word of a search area expanding into the Indian Ocean came hours after a report that the U.S. had an "indication" the jetliner may have crashed there. U.S. officials denied to NBC News that the Kidd has been ordered to the Indian Ocean.

The Kidd, which is already en route to the Strait of Malacca, should arrive daytime Friday local time.

Meanwhile, the Pinckney remains in the original search area, but will depart Friday for a port/repair stop in Singapore.

The P-3 will continue to search the Strait of Malacca and will soon be joined and or replaced by a P-8, the newest version of an anti-submarine search plane.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd, shown here in a file photo, has been redeployed to the Strait of Malacca in the search for the missing airliner.U.S. Navy photo / U.S. Navy

An international search team has been combing waters on either side of Malaysia, and on Thursday, Malaysian authorities expanded their hunt westward toward India, saying it was possible the plane may have flown for several hours after contact with it was lost.

Defense and military officials stressed they were deploying the Kidd and search planes at the request of the Malaysian government, and not based on any independent information or assessment about where they think the plane may have gone done.

According to one senior official, “Like everyone else, we don’t know.”

—Jim Miklaszewski and Elizabeth Chuck