PERTH, Australia — The search zone for the Malaysian airliner that crashed in the Indian Ocean nearly three weeks ago has shifted 680 miles to the northeast after new analysis of radar data suggested the plane flew faster than thought and used more fuel, which may have reduced the distance it traveled, Australia said today.
The revised search area comes as the weather cleared enough today to allow planes to hunt for fresh clues to the fate of the plane carrying 239 people that went missing March 8.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the change was based on new analysis provided by the international investigative team in Malaysia.
"This is a credible new lead and will be thoroughly investigated today," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.
"This is an extraordinarily difficult search, and an agonizing wait for family and friends of the passengers and crew," he said. "We owe it to them to follow every credible lead and to keep the public informed of significant new developments. That is what we are doing."
According to continuing analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before contact was lost with the Boeing 777, the aircraft was traveling faster than previously estimated, resulting in increased fuel use and reducing the possible distance the aircraft could have flown into the Indian Ocean.
The new area is 123,000 square miles and about 1,250 miles west of Perth, Australia, the launching area for the search. The previous search area was more southwest and about 1,550 miles from Perth.
The shift in search areas comes after searchers in planes and ships had scoured parts of the southern Indian Ocean for objects spotted bobbing in sea.
But strong winds and fast currents have made it difficult to pinpoint them, and the search for the plane has yet to produce a single piece of debris — not to mention its so-called black boxes, which could solve the mystery of why the jet, en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, flew so far off course.
In the past week, Japan, Thailand and France have all said their satellites had picked up images of objects that could be debris from the plane. Most of the objects have measured from about 3 feet to about 65 feet. Those sightings were in an area southwest of the new zone, and none have been found yet.
It's unknown whether any of the objects detected by the various satellites were the same.
If and when any bit of wreckage from Flight 370 is recovered and identified, searchers will be able to narrow their hunt for the rest of the Boeing 777 and its flight data and cockpit voice recorders. The plane was supposed to fly from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing but turned away from its route soon after takeoff and flew for several hours before crashing.