Australia’s scientific agency says it believes with “unprecedented precision and certainty” that a missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft crashed into the sea northeast of an area scoured in a fruitless two-year search.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s assertion on Wednesday is based on satellite pictures taken two weeks after Flight MH370 went missing on March 8, 2014.
The Australian government, however, rejected CSIRO’s report saying it was not precise enough.
The flight to Beijing from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur was carrying 239 people on board when it disappeared in what has become one of the world’s greatest aviation mysteries.
It is thought to have been diverted thousands of miles off course out over the southern Indian Ocean before crashing off the coast of western Australia.
CSIRO’s David Griffin, speaking to Al Jazeera from Hobart, said the agency has potentially narrowed the search area to three specific locations in the southern Indian Ocean.
“We are talking about much smaller distances than we’ve ever talked before. The three locations that we nominated are of the highest priority.”
The CSIRO has previously raised doubts about the main 120,000-sq-km underwater search zone, saying it believed the plane went down to the north of it.
Man-made objects spotted
The CSIRO pinpointed the likely locations by reviewing satellite images provided by the French military intelligence service and France’s national space agency, CNES, which showed 70 pieces of debris.
A dozen of those were “probably” man-made, CSIRO said.
“We think it is possible to identify a most-likely location of the aircraft, with unprecedented precision and certainty,” the CSIRO said.
The agency used drift analysis to study where the objects may have been on the day the aircraft went missing and found their projected location to be consistent with the northern area identified in the earlier reports.
The Australian government advised caution, with Transport Minister Darren Chester saying the new analysis “does not provide new evidence leading to a specific location of MH370”.
Aziz Kaprawi, Malaysia’s deputy transport minister, said their civil aviation department would need to evaluate the data since it is based on satellite images from a few years ago.
“We will need to verify the data to see if it’s credible before we make any decision,” Aziz told the Associated Press.
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Thomas, reporting from Sydney, said the proposed locations were “no longer vague” and “puts pressure on the authorities, Malaysia in particular, to restart the search.”
Malaysia, China and Australia have decided that the search will remain suspended unless new evidence pinpoints the wreckage’s whereabouts.
Ocean Infinity, a US seabed exploration firm, said in early August it could resume the hunt for free.
The company said it would seek payment only if the aircraft were found.
Relatives of passengers aboard the missing flight have called on Malaysia to accept the offer.
Aziz said Malaysia has not given up on the search and has scheduled a meeting with Australian and Chinese authorities to discuss the offer from Ocean Infinity.
Only three fragments of MH370 have been found on western Indian Ocean shores, including a two-metre wing part known as a flaperon.