Objects spotted in new Flight 370 search area

Published On: Mar 28 2014 07:23:30 AM CDT

Australian Defense Force

CNN -

Forget all those satellite photos showing promising patches of debris. The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has moved again.

In a stunning turn, Australian authorities announced Friday that they were abandoning the remote patch of Indian Ocean where search crews had spent more than a week looking for the plane. A new analysis of satellite data showed the plane could not have flown that far south, they said.

"We have moved on from those search areas," said John Young, general manager of emergency response for the Australian maritime authority.

The new zone is 680 miles (about 1,100 kilometers) to the northeast, closer to the Australian coast.

A New Zealand air force surveillance plane flying over the new search area spotted unidentified objects floating in the water and was returning to its base in Perth, Australia, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said on Twitter.

The agency was waiting for images of the objects for analysis but said the finds would not be confirmed until Saturday, when a ship is expected to arrive at the site.

Exactly what the plane had found was unclear, but if the finds turn out to be something other than plane debris, it would not be the first time.

A Chinese aircraft reported spotting possible aircraft debris early in the search, but that sighting turned out to be nothing.

'We have not seen any debris'

Friday's developments cap three weeks of frequent false leads in the search for the plane, which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people aboard.

Malaysian authorities announced Monday that an analysis of satellite signals sent by the plane indicated that it must have gone down in the southern Indian Ocean. Analysts who relied on sophisticated mathematics to come to their conclusion couldn't offer a specific impact spot, however.

The decision to move the search zone came after additional analysis indicating the plane didn't fly as far south as previously thought, acting Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Friday.

Young said Australian authorities had concluded a series of satellite images taken over the old search zone showing objects floating in the ocean did not show aircraft wreckage.

"In regards to the old areas, we have not seen any debris," he said, adding that he would not classify anything satellites or planes have spotted as debris. "That's just not justifiable from what we have seen."

Hishammuddin seemed to dispute Young's account, suggesting that the new search area "could still be consistent" with the idea that materials spotted in recent satellite photos over the previous search area are connected to the plane. The materials could have drifted in ocean currents, he said.

Better conditions

The new zone remains vast -- roughly 123,000 square miles (319,000 square kilometers). It is still also remote -- 1,150 miles (1,850 kilometers) west of Perth.

But Young said conditions there are "likely to be better more often" than they were in the old search area, where poor weather has grounded flights two days this week.

Planes will be able to spend more time in the air because the new search zone is closer to land, Young said.

U.S. flight crews involved in the search aren't frustrated or disillusioned by the sudden change in the search, said Cmdr. William Marks of the Navy's U.S. 7th Fleet.

"For the pilots and the air crews, this is what they train for," he said. "They understand it."

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