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September 22, 2017

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MH370 search pivots north on new data

PERTH, Australia -- A multinational fleet of planes and ships raced Friday to a fresh search zone after a "credible new lead" that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was flying faster than first thought before it plunged into the remote Indian Ocean.

Ten aircraft from six countries — Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United States — diverted to an area 1,100 kilometers (685 miles) northeast of where they have been looking for a week, far off western Australia.

Late Friday, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said five aircraft had spotted "multiple objects" in the new search area but they were not expected to be reached by ship for confirmation until Saturday.

Five Chinese ships and an Australian naval vessel were steaming to the new zone after the weather cleared following the suspension of the air search Thursday due to thunderstorms and high winds.

AMSA said Chinese patrol ship Haixun 01 was in the search area and would be in a position to locate the objects on Saturday.

Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the new search area, "although more focused than before, remains considerable; and the search conditions, although easier than before, remain challenging."

The revised search sector — about the size of Norway — was "based on continuing analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost (with MH370)," AMSA said.

"It indicated that the aircraft was traveling faster than previously es timated, resulting in increased fuel usage and reducing the possible distance the aircraft travelled south into the Indian Ocean."

The new area is closer to land, meaning planes can spend more time searching before having to return to refuel, and enjoys better weather than seas further south where the search had been concentrated.

Objects Sighted in New Area

Satellite sightings of unidentified debris by several nations in recent days in the previous zone have raised hopes of finding wreckage from the Boeing 777, which vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board after veering sharply off course during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Nothing has yet been retrieved, however, as rough weather has plagued the search.

Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately redirected by someone on board and flown thousands of miles southwards, but nothing else is known.

"This is a credible new lead and will be thoroughly investigated today," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said of the revised search area.

Malaysian officials said the new zone was identified following an analysis of radar data by experts from Boeing who have joined an international investigation team in Kuala Lumpur.

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