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News

Indian Ocean in focus six days into Malaysia plane hunt

The White House has flagged the possibility that the search for a missing Malaysia jetliner could widen to the Indian Ocean. It is now six days since flight MH370 vanished.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Thursday that "new information" had come to light that could see the search expanded to the Indian Ocean. He declined to elaborate further.

"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," Carney said.

"And we are consulting with international partners about the appropriate assets to deploy."

Officials still do not know what happened to flight MH370, which disappeared en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, carrying 239 people. A huge international search involving ships and planes from at least a dozen countries is covering a vast area of sea, including the Gulf of Thailand, the Andaman Sea and on both sides of the Malay Peninsula.

Estimates show the total search area being covered is about 35,800 square miles (92,600 square kilometers).

Malaysia's transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, has said that Malaysia has also requested radar data from India and other neighboring countries to see if the plane can be traced flying northwest.

Hishammuddin said that the last data transmission from the aircraft's engines happened at 1.07am Saturday, about 23 minutes before the plane's responders stopped working. The responders identify the plane to commercial radar and nearby aircraft.

Authorities have also said the aircraft may have flown for several hours after its last contact with the ground, greatly increasing the potential search zone and therefore the difficulty of the hunt.

Moving the search for MH370 to include the Indian Ocean would be like going "from a chessboard to a football field," said Commander William Marks of the US Navy's 7th Fleet, to CNN.

Adding to the complexity of discovering what went wrong on flight MH370 is the excellent safety record of the Boeing 777, with a number of theories under the spotlight including a mid-air explosion, technical failure or a terrorist act.

Reports of debris in doubt

Malaysia has dismissed satellite images from China that apparently showed "three suspected floating objects." China reported the objects late Wednesday and said they were at a suspected crash site near the plane's last confirmed location.

Hishammuddin Hussein said rescuers found nothing in the area, adding that China had admitted the data was unconfirmed and its release unauthorized.

jr/lw (AP, Reuters, AFP)