Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: New Data Shows Focus in the Southern Indian Ocean

PHOTO: Schoolgirls pray next to a sand art sculpture created by Indian sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik to pay tribute to the passengers and crew onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
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The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 remains focused in the southern Indian Ocean -- where Malaysian investigators repeated today is the area where the plane crashed -- since new data shows it remains the jetliner's last-known position, officials said.

In a news briefing this morning, Malaysian officials said detailed satellite data from the British firm Inmarsat and a new timeline showed the plane flew south in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Perth, Australia and that the search zone has now been reduced roughly to the size of Alaska.

Malaysia's Acting Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said "this type of analysis has never been done in an investigation of this sort" and that the search in the northern corridor had been called off as a result.

"We are currently working to further narrow down the search area, using the four methods I mentioned ... gathering information from satellite surveillance, analysis of surveillance radar data, increasing air and surface assets and increasing the number of technical and subject matter experts," he said.

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Malaysian officials believe the plane vanished somewhere over water since the jetliner had little fuel remaining and no nearby landmass in which to make an emergency landing. The focus, officials said, is recovering the plane's black box.

Investigators are still trying to determine what happened to the plane after it took off around midnight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, headed for Beijing, China. It disappeared off the radar shortly after 1 a.m. but continued to fly, according to satellite data, for up to seven hours.

The search operation, suspended today because of bad weather in the Indian Ocean, is focused on an area that includes 469,407 square nautical miles -- roughly the size of Alaska -- and that officials are attempting again to "narrow down the search area," said Hussein.

Last week, officials had announced that they were looking for the Boeing 777 in a search area of 2.24 million square nautical miles.

Malaysian officials, in a detailed news release, explained that the new analysis has helped in the recreation of a new timeline and confirming the direction in which the plane flew along the southern arc before disappearing.

"As the search area has narrowed, new challenges have arisen, including managing resources in a remote search and rescue effort," the statement from Malaysian officials read. "We continue to work closely with our friends and partners as we seek to marshal more specific resources in support of the operations in that area."

The statement continued, "No response was received from the aircraft ... when the ground earth station sent the next log on/log off message. This indicates that the aircraft was no longer logged on to the network. Therefore ... the aircraft was no longer able to communicate with the ground station. This is consistent with the maximum endurance of the aircraft. This analysis by Inmarsat forms the basis for further study to attempt to determine the final position of the aircraft. Accordingly, the Malaysian investigation has set up an international working group, comprising agencies with expertise in satellite communications and aircraft performance, to take this work forward."

The multinational search, which includes 26 countries, now enters its third week after the Beijing-bound plane vanished March 8 with 239 people on board.

"If there is hope -- even against hope -- we will do whatever it takes," Hussein said when asked about finding the plane.

Hours before, an Australian official had been less optimistic, describing the search as looking for a needle in a haystack -- and that they hadn't even located the haystack yet.

No evidence of debris from the plane has been identified or recovered in the search, Australian Defense Minister David Johnston told reporters in Bullsbrook, Australia.

"It's a massive logistical enterprise," Johnston said, and an "amazing example of international cooperation."

"We're not searching for a needle in a haystack. We're still trying to define where the haystack is," added Mark Binskin, vice chief of the Australian Defence Force.

Earlier today, Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya also held a news conference in Kuala Lumpur to outline steps the airline is taking for the families, including payments made to them and travel accommodations. The airline has offered family members $5,000 for each passenger aboard Flight 370 and additional payments as the search continues.

"My heart breaks to think of unimaginable pain suffered by all the families," he said.

Malaysia Airlines has come under fire for delivering a text message to families on Monday that stated, in part, "MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived."

Responding to the criticism for texting, Yahya said he wanted to make sure the victims' families heard about the news before anyone else.

"Our sole and only motivation last night was to ensure that in the incredibly short amount of time available to us, the families heard the tragic news before the world did," he said.

Today's announcements come after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Monday that the plane "ended" its journey in a "remote location" of the southern Indian Ocean.

Razak said officials concluded that the flight had been lost in the deep waters west of Perth based on information from Inmarsat.

Also yesterday, an Australian plane spotted two objects described as gray or green and "circular" as well as orange and "rectangular" in the search area off Australia's coast.

Other search crews had spotted "suspicious objects" in the Indian Ocean over the weekend -- including items believed to be wooden pallets.

Malaysian authorities are considering the possibilities of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots.

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