The U.S. officials say that a new search area for a missing Malaysian jetliner with 239 people onboard may expand in the Indian Ocean.
Expanding the search area to the Indian Ocean is based on the theory that the Boeing 777 may have made a U-turn to the west coast about an hour after take-off from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing.
“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.”
The U.S. action came hours after Malaysian officials said they had widened westward toward India saying it may have flown for several hours after its last contact with the ground.
Pentagon officials said that the USS Kidd was being moved at the request of Malaysia and is heading towards an area where the Indian Ocean and the Andaman Sea meet. The ship has helicopters aboard that can scour the area.
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that the search’s “main focus has always been in the South China Sea,” which is east of Malaysia and along the plane’s route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
A senior U.S. official said the information came from data sent via a satellite communications system by Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. That data has convinced U.S. officials that the plane’s engines continued to run for at least four hours after all other communication was lost.
The data reporting system, they believe, was shut down at 1:07 a.m. The transponder – which transmits location and altitude – shut down at 1:21 a.m. This indicates it may well have been a deliberate act, ABC News aviation consultant John Nance said.
All other communication with the plane ended by 1:30 a.m. Saturday. Around that point, the pilot signed off with Malaysian air-traffic controllers with a casual “All right, good night,” according to news reports. Then the transponder signal that the plane was sending to ground-based radar stations went silent.
The official said the jet was sending out a pinging signal – a sign it was trying to communicate with a satellite. The system transmits such pings about once an hour, according to the sources, who said five or six were heard. However, the pings alone are not proof that the plane was in the air or on the ground, the sources said.
There are various theories on what might have happened to the jet Saturday, from a terrorist takeover of the plane, to a catastrophic malfunction of the aircraft, to pilot suicide.
“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,” Carney told a regular news briefing.
“We’re looking at information, pursuing possible leads, working within the investigation being led by the Malaysian government.”