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New Lead Shifts Search For Missing Jet 700 Miles North

The new search area for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is about 1,100 miles west of Perth, Australia. Previous search areas are shaded gray and were about 700 miles to the southwest.

The difficult search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 shifted dramatically Friday.

There was word that the search has been moved to an area of the Southern Indian Ocean about 700 miles northeast of the zone that planes and ships have been crisscrossing for more than a week. They've been looking for any sign of the plane and the 239 people who were on board when it disappeared three weeks ago.

According to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, 10 aircraft were sent to the new zone on Friday. The area is about 123,000 square miles in size — roughly the same as the state of New Mexico — and is located more than 1,100 miles west of Perth, Australia.

One of the planes that went to the area on Friday, the AMSA says, spotted some objects. But whether those objects are connected to the missing jet still needs to be established and most likely can't be until ships get to the scene on Saturday.

From Sydney, correspondent Stuart Cohen tells our Newscast Desk that the search zone has shifted because investigators have reexamined radar data and calculated that the jet may have been flying faster than previously thought — and fast enough that it burned through its fuel much sooner than had been estimated.

As the BBC reminds readers:

"Search efforts had until Friday morning focused on an area some 2,500km (1,550 miles) to the southwest of the Australian city of Perth. Using satellite images, several nations have identified objects floating in the sea in that search area, but these have not been located and there is no evidence that they are related to the plane. ..."Acting Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that the fact that the search area had moved did not discount the earlier satellite images of possible debris further south." 'Because of ocean drift, this new search area could still be consistent with the potential objects identified by various satellite images over the past week,' Mr Hussein said."

Those satellite images were at least several days old by the time investigators were able to examine them closely enough to say that they showed objects that might possibly be debris from the jet. By the time the images were available, whatever was spotted had likely drifted considerably.

Investigators had consistently warned that there is a considerable amount of flotsam in the Southern Indian Ocean, including large containers that have fallen off ships. The satellite images, they cautioned, might have only been showing some of that flotsam.

Background

The Malaysia Airlines flight disappeared in the early hours of March 8, local time, which was midday March 7 on the East Coast of the U.S. Bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur with 239 passengers and crew, it was over the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and Vietnam when the last message from the cockpit to air traffic controllers — "all right, good night" — was heard.

Investigators believe the plane then turned sharply to the west, flew back over the Malay Peninsula and headed south over the Indian Ocean. It may have been in the air for six or seven more hours. Theories about what happened vary widely, from some sort of catastrophe on board that disabled the crew to a hijacking.

According to the Australian maritime authority, six countries are assisting in the search and recovery operation — Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Japan, China and the Republic of Korea.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/

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