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Australia says planes checking new search area

PERTH -- Planes are searching a new area of the Indian Ocean for possible signs of the Malaysian airliner after a new analysis of radar data suggests the plane flew faster than thought and used up more fuel, which may have reduced the distance it traveled, Australia said Friday.

Based on the new information, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said it had shifted the search area for the jet that disappeared nearly three weeks ago to a region 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the northeast of where planes and ships had been trying to find any sign of it.

Four search planes were in the area Friday, and six ships were headed there, said John Young, manager of AMSA's emergency response division, adding they had moved on from the previous search area, some 2,500 kilometers southwest of Perth, Australia, the launching base for the search.

AMSA said the change in search areas came from new information based on continuing analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost with Flight 370 early on March 8.

The analysis indicated the aircraft was travelling faster than previously estimated, resulting in increased fuel use and reducing the possible distance the aircraft could have flown into the Indian Ocean.

"This is our best estimate of the area in which the aircraft is likely to have crashed into the ocean," said Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

The new search area is more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) north of an area in which apparently floating objects were spotted by Japanese, Thai and French satellites earlier this week. Most of the objects measured from about 1 meter (3 feet) to about 20 meters (65 feet).

Young said those satellite images "may or may not actually be objects," and acknowledged that the search had moved away from that previous area.

He said it not unusual to make such changes and dismissed questions that the earlier searches had been a wasted effort.

"This is the normal business of search and rescue operations -- that new information comes to light, refined analyses take you to a different place," Young told reporters. "I don't count the original work as a waste of time."

The new area is 319,000 square kilometers (123,000 square miles) and about 1,850 kilometers (1,250 miles) west of Perth. The sea depth in the new area ranged from 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) to 4,000 meters (13,120 feet), Young said.

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 Travelers cutting Malaysia out of their vacation plans 
People place candles during a ceremony in memory of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Thursday, March 27.

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