MH370 search shifts south

EXCLUSIVE Geoffrey Thomas Aviation Editor

In a dramatic development in the mystery of MH370, the search area is to be moved back to a zone 1800km west of Perth, previously dismissed in late March.

_The West Australian _has learnt from US sources that the Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre will announce next week that the six-week analysis of all information related to the Boeing 777's flight path has resulted in an 800km shift in the search area to the south-west.

Yesterday, Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is leading the international search, confirmed the area of highest probability would be "further south".

The search area is still located on what is termed the seventh arc, based on the British-based Inmarsat's satellite-signal contact with the Boeing 777 - just much further south.

Though the ATSB would not reveal precise details, the US sources have said that one of the two ocean floor mapping vessels, Fugro Equator, is already operating in the new area, while a second vessel, the Chinese PLA- navy's Zhu Kezhen, is en route to the same area.

JACC would say only that Fugro Equator was working in an area of the southern Indian Ocean assigned by the ATSB.

"Located along the seventh arc, that area is consistent with provisional analysis of satellite and other data that is being used to determine the future search area," a JACC spokesman said.

A Fremantle source confirmed that the Fugro Equator "is operating in an area about 1800km west of Perth".

These ships will map the sea bed, which is up to 6000m deep, ahead of a contractor starting a side scan sonar search with a towed Orion vehicle, more capable than the Bluefin 21 used earlier.

The search area is 60,000sqkm and it could take up to 12 months to cover it.

When the search started in the southern Indian Ocean on March 18, the search area was 2500km south-west of Perth.

On March 28, on an updated assessment from the ATSB, it was moved 1800km due west of Perth.

However, it was an aerial search only.

When Ocean Shield was launched early in April, fresh intelligence from Malaysia led to the search being moved 800km north-east, basically due west of Exmouth.

The detection of what was thought to be black-box pings within days kept the search in that region for more than a month, despite some misgivings at the ATSB.

After the failure to find MH370 in that area, the ATSB convened a review of all the data, including the critical Inmarsat satellite communications with the Boeing 777.

_The West Australian _understands from the US source that at least three independent groups were formed to analyse the data, including new intelligence, and all came to the same conclusion on the most likely crash site of MH370.