The hunt for the missing flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean is essentially starting from scratch, after new data analysis revealed that the search has so far been in the wrong areas.

Aircraft and ships have begun combing a new area of ocean about 1,100km northeast of the previous search zone. It has been 21 days since the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The change in focus is due to new advice provided by an international air crash investigation team in Malaysia, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). Deeper analysis of radar data from the aircraft’s movements over the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca has shown that it was traveling faster than earlier thought. This means that fuel burn would have been greater and the projected range of the flight shorter.

Australian safety officials say the aircraft’s potential flight path “may be subject to further refinement” as the investigation team continues its work.

The new 319,000-square-km search zone is to the west of Perth, whereas the previous area was to the southwest. It is also significantly closer to land.

AMSA says 10 aircraft began looking in the new area today, including planes from Australia, Japan, Korea, China, the U.S. and New Zealand. Six ships are relocating there, and one Chinese vessel is already on site. Satellites are also being re-tasked to capture images.

While it is still remote, the revised area will be slightly easier to operate in. Since it is closer to land, aircraft will have more time to search, The new zone is also outside the so-called Roaring Forties, so weather conditions should be better.

A towed pinger locator and a Bluefin-21 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle have arrived in Perth from the U.S. to assist in the location and recovery of the flight data recorder.

Multiple satellite sightings of objects near the previous search area during the past several days had raised hopes of finding a debris field. However, AMSA officials stress that none of these were confirmed by aircraft or ship sightings.

The previous area was identified based on an Inmarsat analysis of satellite signals between the aircraft and the Inmarsat 3-F1 satellite.

Malaysia Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein noted on March 28 that the earlier satellite images should not necessarily be discounted. “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,” he says.

In another late development, five aircraft reported seeing objects in the water in the new search zone. Photos are being examined, and ships are en route to investigate.


-Updated with information from emerging developments.