The expanse adjoins the original search zone far southwest of Australia.
Analysis by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau shows the Malaysia Airlines plane was likely spiraling as it crashed into the ocean in 2014.
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Satellite images of debris floating on the Indian Ocean two weeks after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 could revive the three-year-old search in a new area, according to a scientific analysis released Wednesday.
But an Australian official from the agency that led the search with Malaysia and China cautioned that the debris might not be from a plane, even if it is man-made.
“Clearly we must be cautious,” Greg Hood, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said in a statement.
Aziz Kaprawi, Malaysia’s deputy transport minister, told The Associated Press that the department would need to evaluate the data since it’s based on satellite images from a few years ago.
“We will need to verify the data to see if it’s credible before we make any decision,” he said.
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Malaysia Flight 370 disappeared March 8, 2014, with 239 aboard during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Pieces of the plane have washed up on islands in the Indian Ocean and along the coast of Africa.
Based on satellite data and an analysis of how the pieces might have floated away from the crash site, searchers spent $160 million and nearly three years combing an area of ocean floor the size of Pennsylvania, about 46,000 square miles.
The governments of Australia, Malaysia and China agreed in January to suspend the underwater search until more credible evidence is found to locate the wreckage.
Ocean Infinity, a seabed exploration company based in Houston, offered last week to launch a private search in exchange for an unspecified reward if it could find the main wreckage. The company didn’t detail why it thought it would be successful where the three governments have failed.
Aziz said Wednesday that the offer was still being negotiated, but that there were monetary terms unacceptable to the government.
“There are three categories of findings in the offer. The terms are a bit ambiguous,” Aziz said. “The government wants the terms to be transparent and clear.”
The new hope is based on a government analysis of French military satellite images gathered March 23, 2014. Satellite experts at Geoscience Australia weren’t asked to analyze the images until March 2017.
The debris appears to be man-made, but not necessarily from Malaysia’s Boeing 777.
“This might be a really good clue. It might be a red herring,” said David Griffin, an oceanographer with the Australian science agency CSIRO, which analyzed the pictures. “But if you are going to search, then you’d be silly to ignore this potential clue.”
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Based on a drift analysis of the objects in the satellite images, CSIRO identified three potential crash sites — 35.6 degrees S, 92.8 degrees E; 34.7 degrees S, 92.6 degrees E and 35.3 degrees S, 91.8 degrees E.
All three locations are within a 9,700-square-mile area that a panel of experts identified in November as a likely spot to find the plane. The area is about one-fifth the size and adjacent to the zone that has already been searched.
“So that is a way of potentially narrowing down the search area with the very important caveat that, of course, we can’t be totally sure that those objects seen in the images are actual pieces of plane,” Griffin said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 has been a difficult case to bring to court.
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