A Boeing 777-200 plane of Malaysia Airlines prepares to land at the Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China, 20 November 2010.
Could plane ditch into ocean intact?
03:57 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Transportation minister: Families want "a commitment on our part to continue the search"

The shift to a new search area is based on new calculations about how far the plane flew

New area is closer to land and in an area with better weather

Satellite photos taken over old area don't appear to show plane debris, Australian official says

CNN  — 

Malaysian officials say that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went down in the Indian Ocean, and the search is on for the wreckage, flight data recorders or any other part of the plane.

What’s the latest?

On Saturday, Malaysian officials refused to rule out the possibility that someone may have survived.

“Even hoping against hope, no matter how remote, of course we are praying and we are continuing our search for possible survivors,” said Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s acting transportation minister.

Many relatives recall speculation from early on in the search that the plane may have landed somewhere. They have implored Malaysian officials not to give up.

“What they want is a commitment on our part to continue the search, and that I have given,” Hishammuddin said.

Though he said he refused to give false hope, he also appeared unwilling to pronounce with certainty that the 239 people aboard the plane when it went missing March 8 are dead.

It’s “not unreasonable” for relatives to want to hold on to a glimmer of hope, he said. “Miracles do happen, remote or otherwise, and that is the hope that the families want me to convey not only to the Malaysian government, MAS, but also to the world at large,” he said.

But retired airline pilot and aviation specialist John Ransom told CNN on Saturday that the possibility of survival was vanishingly small. “It would be extremely difficult to imagine somebody surviving that,” he said.

Wait a minute. Didn’t I hear a few days ago that there was no chance of survivors?

Yes. Malaysian officials had told the families that nobody would have survived.

Many relatives were angered Monday when they received this bluntly worded text message: “Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond a reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived,” it read.

“My heart can’t handle it,” Cheng Li Ping told CNN as she waited in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for evidence about what happened to her husband.

Where is the new search area?

It’s 680 miles (1,100 kilometers) northeast of where search operations had been focused. That puts it 1,150 miles (1,850 kilometers) off the west coast of Australia. It’s about 400 miles (644 kilometers) closer to land than the previous area.

So what does this mean for efforts to find the plane?

The new search area is closer to land and in a less-hostile region of ocean, making for longer, safer and more consistent searches.

But, at 123,000 square miles (319,000 square kilometers), it is an area the size of New Mexico.

“We’re kind of starting from square one with a whole new search and a whole new set of premises,” CNN aviation analyst Jeff Wise said Friday.

Hmm, I thought everyone was confident the old search zone was the right place to look. What happened?

Investigators concluded this week that, during the flight’s initial phase, the plane was traveling faster – and therefore burning fuel faster – than they had thought. They based that conclusion on radar and satellite data.

The plane would have had less fuel left for its flight over the Indian Ocean. Authorities have concluded it could not have traveled as far south as they had thought earlier.

They estimate the plane went down about 680 miles (1,100 kilometers) northeast of the previous search zone.

But what about all those floating objects spotted by satellites?

Early Friday, Hishammuddin, Malaysia’s acting transport minister, said that, as a result of ocean drift, the new search area for the plane “could still be consistent” with objects spotted earlier by satellites.

But Australian searchers have a different view.

“In regards to the old areas, we have not seen any debris,” said John Young, general manager of emergency response for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

“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.”

Could currents have carried the debris there?

No way, according to University of Western Australia oceanographer Charitha Pattiaratchi.

Pattiaratchi modeled currents in the search zone and said objects floating in the water would have tended to stay trapped in eddies “barely leaving the search area.”

“There is absolutely no connection, in terms of the debris between the two locations,” he said in an e-mail, noting that they are some 621 miles (1,000 kilometers) apart.

He said currents in the new search zone are weaker, which means that any debris would likely be concentrated in a smaller area.

Another oceanographer, Curt Ebbesmeyer of Seattle, said objects would likely drift about 10 miles (16 kilometers) a day, and smaller objects could reach the west coast of Australia in about three months.

Learn about technology being used in the search

What happens if some of this debris turns out to be from the plane?

Oceanographers would pore through current and wind data to try to trace where the debris may have been at the time the plane was lost, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr reported.

The United States would send a “pinger locator” to the area to try to locate the flight data and cockpit voice recorders; an unmanned, small submarine would also be sent to map the ocean floor and look for objects.

Salvage vessels outfitted with grappling equipment attached to thousands of feet of cable would be sent to the area, according to Peter Goelz, former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board.

That’s what happened after the July 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island, New York. Investigators found 97% of the plane and reassembled it in a hangar to find out how the crash happened. But flight recorders aboard Flight 370 were set to document 82 indicators – versus 18 in the TWA jet – and their recovery may obviate the need for such painstaking and time-consuming work.

“If there’s something conclusive on the 82 parameters that says something like the engines quit or there was a fire extinguisher that went off, things like that, then that would narrow the accident down. They might not have to reconstruct the entire aircraft,” former Federal Aviation Administration investigator David Soucie told CNN.

How many countries are involved in search efforts?

There are seven countries, including Malaysia, helping the current search, which is divided into two sectors, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Agency. Australia is leading the effort, based out of Perth. Others are China, New Zealand, the United States, South Korea and Japan.

Experts and relatives ask: Where’s the proof that the plane went down?

Did flammable cargo doom Flight 370?

Flight 370’s resting place is best clue

CNN’s Tom Watkins, Ashley Fantz, Jethro Mullen and Michael Pearson contributed to this report.