Search for MH370 to shift south of previous focus area: Report

SYDNEY (AFP) - The drawn-out search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 will revert to an area hundreds of kilometres south of the previously suspected crash site following new analysis of the plane's flight path, a report said on Friday.

Investigators grappling to solve the mystery of the jet's disappearance are set to scour a zone 1,800 kilometres west of Perth - previously subject to an aerial search - when an underwater probe resumes in August, the West Australian said.

Citing unnamed US sources, the newspaper said Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) would soon announce that the hunt will move 800 kilometres southwest from where it was previously focused. It said these sources had revealed that survey ship Fugro Equator was already operating in this area and would soon be joined by Chinese vessel Zhu Kezhen.

A massive aerial and underwater search for MH370, which had 239 people onboard when it diverted from its Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight path on March 8, has failed to find any sign of the plane. Scientists from British company Inmarsat told the BBC earlier this week that the search had yet to target the most likely crash site, or "hotspot", after becoming diverted by pings thought at the time to have originated from the plane's black boxes.

It was not clear from the West Australian report whether the new search area overlaps with the "hotspot".

JACC said on Friday that the revised search zone, based on an intensive study of satellite communications from the jet and other data, would be announced by the end of the month. Australian officials have said repeatedly that the revised search zone will be in the area of the seventh arc, or the final satellite "handshake" from the plane. It is believed to be when the aircraft ran out of fuel and was in descent.

JACC said the Fugro Equator was now working in this zone.

"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," it said.

Australian officials announced earlier this week that a survey of the sea bed, mostly unmapped and crucial to the success of the underwater search, had resumed. Two ships - Fugro Equator and Zhu Kezhen - will survey an area up to 6,000 metres deep and covering up to 60,000 square kilometres before an a contractor begins an intensive undersea probe looking for debris.

Previously an intensive undersea search for the plane, in the area in which the acoustic noises were detected, failed to find any sign of the jet. The source of the noises is unknown.

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