The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will focus on the southern part of the search area in the Indian Ocean, Australian officials say.
Officials said further refinement of satellite data found the plane may have turned south earlier than thought.
The announcement came as Australia and Malaysia signed an agreement on the search’s next phase, which will see the two countries sharing costs.
The Beijing-bound plane disappeared on March 8 with 239 people onboard.
Based on analysis of satellite data, it is believed to have ended its journey in seas far west of the Australian city of Perth.
Investigators do not know what happened to the flight and finding its “black box” flight recorders is seen as key to understanding the factors behind its disappearance.
The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will focus on the southern part of the search area in the Indian Ocean
Australia, which is responsible for search and rescue operations, has been looking for the plane in an area about 1,800km off its west coast.
The latest detail on the plane’s possible flight path came from an analysis of a failed attempted satellite phone call from Malaysia Airlines to the plane, said Australia’s Deputy PM Warren Truss.
“The search area remains the same, but some of the information that we now have suggests to us that areas a little further to the south… are of particular interest and priority,” he told reporters in Canberra.
A Dutch contractor, Fugro Survey, will kick off the next phase in the search in September. Three vessels towing underwater vehicles will scan for the plane.
The search will focus on an area of about 60,000 sq km and is estimated to cost about A$52 million ($49 million).
Malaysia’s Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai signed the memorandum of understanding with Warren Truss.
The two were also briefed on search efforts, together with China’s Transport Vice-Minister He Jianzhong.
Most of the passengers onboard MH370 flight were Chinese. The ministers issued a statement saying they “remain cautiously optimistic” that the plane will be found.
The international search of the south Indian Ocean for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has been increased with more planes.
Eight planes were sent out on Sunday over a wider search area after China released new images of possible debris.
Australia is leading the search and said it was investigating sightings of a wooden pallet and other items.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with 239 people on board.
Malaysian officials believe the plane was deliberately taken off course.
Based on information received from a satellite, the search has been in two distinct corridors – one stretching to the north-west of the last known location in the Malacca Straits and one to the south-west.
More planes have joined an increasingly international search of the south Indian Ocean for missing flight MH370
However, none of the countries on the northern corridor have reported any radar contact, and two sets of satellite images of possible debris in the south Indian Ocean have concentrated the search there.
The search is being co-ordinated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) from Perth in western Australia.
Eight search planes were involved in the search on Sunday, including four civil aircraft and a US P8 Poseidon.
Two Chinese IL-76 search planes have arrived in Perth but have not yet been deployed. Japan is sending two P3 Orions.
The Australian navy’s HMAS Success is the only ship in the area, though others, including from the US, UK and China are on the way.
A key focus on Sunday was the sighting on Saturday of a wooden cargo pallet, along with belts or straps.
Mike Barton, operations coordinator at AMSA, said: “Part of the description was a wooden pallet and a number of other items which were nondescript around it and some belts of some different colors around it as well, strapping belts of different lengths.”
He added: “We tried to re-find that yesterday, one of the New Zealand aircraft, and unfortunately they didn’t find it. That’s the nature of it – you only have to be off by a few hundred metres in a fast-travelling aircraft.”
Pallets are used for shipping as well as plane cargo and Mike Barton cautioned the sighting “could be anything”.
AMSA released a statement on Sunday’s search, detailing the aircraft involved and saying the area would cover about 22,800 square miles.
Mike Barton said the sun and haze at a low altitude made the task for searchers tough.
The weather on Sunday was initially cloudy but it was hoped it might clear later.
Earlier, Australian PM Tony Abbott said the sightings of objects were encouraging signs.
“Obviously we have now had a number of very credible leads and there is increasing hope – no more than hope, no more than hope – that we might be on the road to discovering what did happen to this ill-fated aircraft,” he said.
China on Saturday released a satellite image showing an object floating in the southern Indian Ocean near to the area already being searched, some 1,550 miles south-west of Perth.
The grainy image was released by China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.
US surveillance teams have been sent to the Indian Ocean to help search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, after claims emerged that it may have flown for longer than investigators had thought.
Unnamed officials said flight MH370 sent signals to satellites for up to five hours after its apparent disappearance.
However, investigators stressed that the information was not conclusive.
Rescuers have so far failed to find any trace of flight MH370, which vanished last Saturday with 239 people on board.
The plane, which was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, last made contact with air-traffic control over the South China Sea to the east of Malaysia.
US surveillance teams have been sent to the Indian Ocean to help search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane
The US, which is one of a number of countries helping in the search for the plane, has sent a navy destroyer and a sophisticated surveillance aircraft to the Indian Ocean, hundreds of miles west of Malaysia.
The Indian navy, air force and coast guard are also now assisting after a request for help from the Malaysian government.
Several US media reports on Thursday cited unnamed officials as saying that the Boeing 777 was “pinging” satellites for hours after its last contact with air-traffic controllers.
That led searchers to believe the plane could have flown more than 1,000 miles beyond its last confirmed radar sighting.
White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed that US teams were shifting their focus to the Indian Ocean because of “new information”, but he gave no further details.
Some 153 of the passengers on board the Malaysia Airlines plane were Chinese, and Beijing has been putting pressure on Malaysia to intensify its search.
More than 500,000 of people who were evacuated before Cyclone Phailin crashed into eastern India have begun returning to their homes.
However, many will remain in shelters as their homes and businesses were wrecked by the strongest cyclone in 14 years.
As the storm weakened a vast relief operation got under way in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh states, where officials say up to one million were displaced.
Mass evacuations managed to keep the death toll to a bare minimum.
Officials said 22 people were killed – all but one of the deaths were in Orissa.
The cyclone flattened many coastal homes, uprooted trees and blocked roads in the two states but the evacuation effort – described by officials as “the biggest in India’s history for such an event” – ensured the death toll remained low.
More than 500,000 of people who were evacuated before Cyclone Phailin crashed into eastern India have begun returning to their homes
Correspondents say before Cyclone Phailin hit, the authorities moved – sometimes forcibly – nearly one million people into temporary shelters set up in schools and government buildings.
The move has earned the Indian authorities rare praise for their preparedness.
In 1999 a cyclone killed more than 10,000 people in Orissa.
The authorities have promised that power and road access would be restored in the state by Monday evening, except in the worst-hit Ganjam district.
The massive storm made landfall on Saturday evening, with winds of about 125mph.
It began weakening on Sunday as it made its way north-west.
But the intense storm has made more than half-a-million people homeless, state government officials said.
The storm tore down power and communication lines and knocked out road and rail links, making an assessment difficult.
An estimated 5,000 sq km of mostly paddy crops have been destroyed, causing a loss of some $320 million.
Meanwhile, 28 sailors, who went missing after their ship sank in the cyclone, have been rescued from the Bay of Bengal, a defense spokesman said.
More than 400,000 people in India have been evacuated as Cyclone Phailin sweeps through the Bay of Bengal towards the east coast.
Cyclone Phailin, categorized as “very severe” by weather forecasters, is expected to hit Orissa and Andhra Pradesh states on Saturday evening.
The Meteorological Department has predicted the storm will bring winds up to 136 mph.
A deadly super-cyclone in 1999 killed more than 10,000 people in Orissa.
However, the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii is forecasting even stronger winds, predicting sustained speeds of up to 167 mph.
Officials said Cyclone Phailin is expected to make landfall close to the city of Gopalpur (Orissa state), bringing a storm surge of at least 10 ft that was likely to cause “extensive damage” to mud houses on the coast.
More than 400,000 people in India have been evacuated as Cyclone Phailin sweeps through the Bay of Bengal towards the east coast
“No-one will be allowed to stay in mud and thatched houses in the coastal areas,” said Orissa’s Disaster Management Minister Surya Narayan Patra.
The army is on standby in the two states for emergency and relief operations. Officials said helicopters and food packages were ready to be dropped in the storm-affected areas.
Meanwhile, the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Centre predicted that Phailin could produce gusts of up to 315 km/h, while the London-based Tropical Storm Risk classified Phailin as a Category Five storm – the most powerful.
The Times of India newspaper warned that local meteorologists may be underestimating the severity of the storm.
Meteorologists also say that the storm is not only intense but covers a wide area.
Fishermen have been asked not to venture out to sea.
Rain and winds are already being felt in Orissa, where authorities said they were setting up shelters for people who would need to be evacuated.
“We are fighting against nature. We are better prepared this time, we learnt a lot from 1999,” said Surya Narayan Patra.
Reports said that there had been panic buying in the state capital, Bhubaneswar, with shelves being emptied of food.
“I’m feeling scared and tense. My son is expected to arrive Sunday. Now I think he won’t make it,” housewife Manjushree Das told the Agence France-Presse news agency.
India’s eastern coast and Bangladesh are routinely hit by cyclonic storms between April and November which cause deaths and widespread damage to property.
In December 2011, Cyclone Thane hit the southern state of Tamil Nadu, killing dozens of people.
A new study suggests that fragments of an ancient continent called Rodinia are buried beneath the floor of the Indian Ocean.
Researchers have found evidence for a landmass that would have existed between 2,000 and 85 million years ago.
The strip of land, which scientists have called Mauritia, eventually fragmented and vanished beneath the waves as the modern world started to take shape.
The study is published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Until about 750 million years ago, the Earth’s landmass was gathered into a vast single continent called Rodinia.
And although they are now separated by thousands of kilometres of ocean, India was once located next to Madagascar.
Now researchers believe they have found evidence of a sliver of continent – known as a microcontinent – that was once tucked between the two.
The team came to this conclusion after studying grains of sand from the beaches of Mauritius.
While the grains dated back to a volcanic eruption that happened about nine million years ago, they contained minerals that were much older.
Professor Trond Torsvik, from the University of Oslo, Norway, said: “We found zircons that we extracted from the beach sands, and these are something you typically find in a continental crust. They are very old in age.”
The zircon dated to between 1,970 and 600 million years ago, and the team concluded that they were remnants of ancient land that had been dragged up to the surface of the island during a volcanic eruption.
A new study suggests that fragments of an ancient continent called Rodinia are buried beneath the floor of the Indian Ocean
Prof. Trond Torsvik said that he believed pieces of Mauritia could be found about 10 km down beneath Mauritius and under a swathe of the Indian Ocean.
It would have spanned millions years of history, from the Precambrian Era when land was barren and devoid of life to the age when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
But about 85 million years ago, as India started to drift away from Madagascar towards its current location, the microcontinent would have broken up, eventually disappearing beneath the waves.
However, a small part could have survived.
“At the moment the Seychelles is a piece of granite, or continental crust, which is sitting practically in the middle of the Indian Ocean,” explained Prof. Trond Torsvik.
“But once upon a time, it was sitting north of Madagascar. And what we are saying is that maybe this was much bigger, and there are many of these continental fragments that are spread around in the ocean.”
Further research is needed to fully investigate what remains of this lost region.
Prof. Trond Torsvik explained: “We need seismic data which can image the structure… this would be the ultimate proof. Or you can drill deep, but that would cost a lot of money.”