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New US lead thrusts Malaysia jet search into Indian Ocean

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The Royal Malaysian Navy corvette and a US Navy Sea Hawk helicopter search for a missing Malaysian Airlines jet March 12, 2014 in the Gulf of Thailand/AFP

The Royal Malaysian Navy corvette and a US Navy Sea Hawk helicopter search for a missing Malaysian Airlines jet March 12, 2014 in the Gulf of Thailand/AFP

KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 14 – The needle-in-a-haystack hunt for a missing Malaysian airliner spread to the vast Indian Ocean on 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 tantalising 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”. READ: Malaysia rejects jet ‘debris’ images and 4-hour flight report.

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”.

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