US says ‘new information’ may lead to expanded jet search

White House spokesman says US consulting with international partners about assets to deploy

Thu, Mar 13, 2014, 23:01

A new search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean as authorities try to determine what happened to a missing Malaysian airliner, the White House said tonight.

“It’s my understanding that based on some new information that‘s not necessarily conclusive - but new information - an additional search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean,“ White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

“And we are consulting with international partners about the appropriate assets to deploy.“

Mr Carney did not specify the nature of the “new information.“

Mr Carney sidestepped a question as to whether the United States has confidence in the investigation being conducted by the Malaysian government.

“I just don‘t have an evaluation to make,“ he said. “What I can tell you is that we‘re working with the Malaysian government to try to find the plane; find out what happened to it for the sake of the families and, obviously, for the sake of knowing what caused the plane to disappear.“

The United States has been helping in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, including the deployment of US Navy vessels. It also has sent transportation safety board and federal aviation administration officials there.

“There are a number of possible scenarios that are being investigated as to what happened to the flight. And we are not in a position at this time to make conclusions about what happened, unfortunately. But we’re actively participating in the search,” Mr Carney told a regular news briefing.

“We‘re looking at information, pursuing possible leads, working within the investigation being led by the Malaysian government.“

US defence officials told Reuters the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd was en route to Strait of Malacca, west of the Malaysian peninsula, to continue the search for the missing jetliner, answering a request from the Malaysian government. The officials said they were unaware of any new evidence indicating where the plane might have crashed.

The Kidd had been searching the areas south of the Gulf of Thailand, along with the destroyer USS Pinckney. A US defence official noted that a Navy P-3 Orion aircraft had already searched the Strait of Malacca.

Earlier today, Malaysian authorities expanded their search for the missing Boeing 777 jet into the Andaman Sea and beyond after acknowledging it could have flown for several more hours after its last contact with the ground.

That scenario would make finding the plane a vastly more difficult task, and raises the possibility that searchers are currently looking in the wrong place for the aircraft and its 229 passengers and crew.

In the latest in a series of false leads, planes were sent to search an area where Chinese satellite images published on a Chinese government website reportedly showed three suspected floating objects off the southern tip of Vietnam.

“There is nothing. We went there, there is nothing,” said acting Malaysian transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein.

Compounding the frustration, he later said the Chinese Embassy had notified the government that the images were released by mistake and did not show any debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

The plane was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing early on Saturday when it lost contact with ground controllers and civilian radar.

An international search effort is sweeping the South China Sea and also the Strait of Malacca because of unconfirmed military radar sightings that might indicate the plane changed course and headed west after its last contact.

The Wall Street Journal newspaper quoted US investigators as saying they suspected the plane remained in the air for about four hours after its last confirmed contact, citing data from the plane’s engines that are automatically transmitted to the ground as part of a routine maintenance programme.

Mr Hishammuddin said the government had contacted Boeing and Rolls-Royce, the engine manufacturer, and both said the last data was received at 1.07am — around 23 minutes before the plane lost contact.

But asked if it were possible that the plane kept flying for several hours, Mr Hishammuddin said: “Of course, we can’t rule anything out. This is why we have extended the search.”

He said the search had been widened into the Andaman Sea, and Malaysia is asking for radar data from neighbouring countries. India plans to deploy air and sea assets in the southern section of the sea to join the search.

Investigators have not ruled out any possible cause for the disappearance of the plane.

Experts say a massive failure knocking out its electrical systems, while unlikely, could explain why its transponders, which identify it to civilian radar systems and other planes nearby, were not working.

Another possibility is that the pilot, or a passenger, likely one with some technical knowledge, switched off the transponders in the hope of flying undetected.

The jet had enough fuel to reach deep into the Indian Ocean.

Dozens of ships and aircraft from 12 nations have been searching the Gulf of Thailand and the strait, but no confirmed trace has been found.

The search area is about the size of Portugal.

Experts say that if the plane crashed into the ocean then some debris should be floating on the surface, even if most of the jet is submerged. Past experience shows that finding the wreckage can take weeks or even longer, especially if the location of the plane is in doubt.

Malaysia’s air force chief said yesterday that an unidentified object appeared on military radar records about 322km north-west of Penang, Malaysia, and experts are analysing the data in an attempt to determine whether the blip is the missing plane.

Agencies