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Australia says planes checking new search area

This graphic shows where possible objects relating to Malaysia Airlines flight 370 were found in relation to each other.
Credit: CNN

New 'credible' lead

Jethro Mullen

CNN

(CNN) -- Nearly three weeks after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the focus of the hunt for the missing passenger jet has moved yet again.

Search teams shifted to a different part of the southern Indian Ocean after Australian authorities said they received "a new credible lead" about the jetliner's most likely last movements.

An analysis of radar data led investigators to move the search to an area 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the northeast of where efforts had been focused previously, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said Friday.

It called the new information "the most credible lead to where debris may be located."

That means the huge, isolated areas of the ocean that ships and planes combed for the past week, and where various satellites detected objects that might be debris from the missing plane, are no longer a priority.

"We have moved on from those search areas," said John Young, general manager of emergency response for the Australian maritime authority.

'We have not seen any debris'

He also played down the significance of various possible objects detected by satellites in that region.

"In regards to the old areas, we have not seen any debris," Young said at a news briefing in Canberra, the Australian capital. "And I would not wish to classify any of the satellite imagery as debris, nor would I want to classify any of the few visual sightings that we made as debris. That's just not justifiable from what we have seen."

He disputed the suggestion that the search in the previous areas had been a waste of time, saying it was based on the information authorities "had at the time."

"That's nothing unusual for search and rescue operations," he said "And this actually happens to us all the time -- that new information may arise out of sequence with the search itself."

The latest data, based on an analysis of radar on the night Flight 370 disappeared, suggest the aircraft was traveling faster than previously estimated before it dropped off radar, Australian authorities said.

That means the plane is thought to have burned more fuel than previously calculated, shortening the possible distance it flew south into the Indian Ocean.

Less remote, better weather

The new search area is closer to the Australian continent, allowing planes to spend longer flying over it as they hunt for traces of the missing passenger jet, which disappeared March 8 over Southeast Asia with 239 people on board.

"We will certainly get better time on scene," Young said.

The new zone is also farther north, moving search teams away from latitudes known for difficult weather conditions. Search efforts in the old areas were disrupted twice this week by bad weather.

Conditions in the more northerly zone are "likely to be better more often than we've seen in the past," Young said.

They may also be better for taking satellite images, he said. The Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation has directed satellites to capture images of the new zone.

But the area is question remains vast -- roughly 319,000 square kilometers (123,000 square miles) -- and remote -- about 1,850 kilometers (1,150 miles) west of Perth, the western Australian city that's the hub for search operations.

Ten search aircraft will fly over the area over the course of Friday. Six ships involved in the search -- one Australian and five Chinese -- are headed there, too.

CNN's Brian Walker and Ben Brumfield contributed to this report.

EILEEN NG, Associated Press
ROB GRIFFITH, Associated Press


PERTH, Australia (AP) — Planes are searching a new area of the Indian Ocean for possible signs of the Malaysian airliner after a new analysis of radar data suggests the plane flew faster than thought and used up more fuel, which may have reduced the distance it traveled, Australia said Friday.

Based on the new information, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said it had shifted the search area for the jet that disappeared nearly three weeks ago to a region 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the northeast of where planes and ships had been trying to find any sign of it.

Four search planes were in the area Friday, and six ships were headed there, said John Young, manager of AMSA's emergency response division, adding they had moved on from the previous search area, some 2,500 kilometers southwest of Perth, Australia, the launching base for the search.

AMSA said the change in search areas came from new information based on continuing analysis of radar data between the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca before radar contact was lost with Flight 370 early on March 8.

The analysis indicated the aircraft was travelling faster than previously estimated, resulting in increased fuel use and reducing the possible distance the aircraft could have flown into the Indian Ocean.

"This is our best estimate of the area in which the aircraft is likely to have crashed into the ocean," said Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

The new search area is more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) north of an area in which apparently floating objects were spotted by Japanese, Thai and French satellites earlier this week. Most of the objects measured from about 1 meter (3 feet) to about 20 meters (65 feet).

Young said those satellite images "may or may not actually be objects," and acknowledged that the search had moved away from that previous area.

He said it not unusual to make such changes and dismissed questions that the earlier searches had been a wasted effort.

"This is the normal business of search and rescue operations — that new information comes to light, refined analyses take you to a different place," Young told reporters. "I don't count the original work as a waste of time."

The new area is 319,000 square kilometers (123,000 square miles) and about 1,850 kilometers (1,250 miles) west of Perth. The sea depth in the new area ranged from 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) to 4,000 meters (13,120 feet), Young said.

Australia's HMAS Success and five Chinese vessels were on their way, and that the Success was expected to arrive there late Saturday night, he added.

Strong winds and currents have made it difficult to pinpoint objects spotted so far, and the search has yet to produce any trace of the plane.

Malaysian officials said earlier this week that satellite data confirmed the plane crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.

Authorities are rushing to find any piece of the plane to help them locate the so-called black boxes, or flight data and voice recorders, that will help solve the mystery of why the jet, en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, flew so far off-course. The battery in the black box normally lasts about a month.

For relatives of the 239 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the various clues and failed searches so far have just added to their agonizing waits.

Wang Zhen, whose parents were aboard the missing plane, said in a telephone interview in Beijing that he was becoming exasperated.

"There is nothing I can do but to wait, and wait," he said. "I'm also furious, but what is the use of getting furious?"

___

Ng reported from Kuala Lumpur. Associated Press writers Scott McDonald and Gillian Wong in Kuala Lumpur, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report

 

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