New Search Area for Malaysia Airlines Jet Could Cover 23,000 Square Miles

PHOTO: Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orions captain, Wing Comdr. Rob Shearer watches out of the window of his aircraft while searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean, Monday, March 31, 2014.PlayRob Griffith/AP Photo
WATCH Missing Malaysia Flight 370 Search Continues Months After Disappearance

Authorities plan to announce later today a new, expanded search area in the hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared in March with 239 people aboard.

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The new search area could cover up to 23,000 square miles, which is 70 times larger than the area that has already been searched.

It will still be weeks, if not a couple of months, before the underwater search for Flight 370 continues.

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The jetliner’s digital signature shows the plane was probably descending the last time it was in touch with a satellite, meaning the wreckage could be more than 20 miles to the west or 30 miles to the east from the flight’s path over the southern Indian Ocean, Martin Dolan, the commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the agency overseeing southern search efforts for the doomed plane, told ABC News.

Search efforts off Australia’s coastline have been fruitless, with air crews and underwater vehicles scouring ocean waters for clues in the plane’s disappearance.

Investigators believe the jetliner had been flying for more than seven hours, cruising at altitude with apparently no damage, pinging a satellite every hour.

The final full ping occurred at 8:11 a.m. But eight minutes later, an unexpected ping occurred, reflecting fuel exhaustion.

By that point, the jet was descending, Dolan said. Investigators are still unsure whether the jet was dropping out of the sky or still flying.

The location of the jet could depend on whether both engines quit at the same time. If so, the jet could have glided for a while, he said, leaving considerable range for the plane’s final location.