KUALA LUMPUR—The needle-in-a-haystack hunt for a missing Malaysian airliner spread to the vast Indian Ocean Friday after the White House cited “new information” that it might have flown for hours after vanishing nearly seven days ago.
Multiple US media reports, citing American officials, said the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777’s communication system continued to “ping” a satellite for a number of hours after it disappeared off radar with 239 people aboard, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
“It’s my understanding that based on some new information that’s not necessarily conclusive, but new information, an additional search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
A US Navy official told AFP that the USS Kidd was “transiting the Strait of Malacca en route to the Indian Ocean”. The guided-missile destroyer was initially deployed to the Gulf of Thailand on the other side of Malaysia’s coast.
It was the latest in a series of tantalizing leads that have pulled the search for flight MH370 in multiple directions and deepened one of the biggest mysteries in modern aviation history.
Delhi-based aviation analyst Kapil Kak, a former Indian air marshal, called the situation “inexplicable, unprecedented and shocking”.
The new thrust opens an additional search front of daunting magnitude. The Indian Ocean is the world’s third largest with an average depth of nearly 3,900 meters (12,800 feet).
It is like going “from a chessboard to a football field”, Commander William Marks of the US 7th Fleet told CNN.
Marks insisted the search remained coordinated with the Malaysian authorities and that the US Navy was “not out here freelancing”.
Malaysia has not responded directly to the latest US information.
“The investigation team is following all leads that may help locate the missing aircraft,” a government statement said Friday afternoon.
It said Malaysia continued “to work closely” with US officials sent to Kuala Lumpur to help in the investigation. Malaysian officials were expected to hold a news conference later Friday.
The lack of results from the investigation and search so far has created a volatile mix of grief, anger, frustration and speculation that the Malaysian authorities have struggled to control.
The government has stressed the “unprecedented” nature of the challenge, with the search parameters expanding daily and the focus swinging wildly from the east to the west of the Malaysian peninsula.