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MH370: Australia to search Indian Ocean

Tony Abbott says Australia has accepted a request from the Malaysian Prime Minister to assume responsibility for searching the Southern Indian Ocean for flight MH370.

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A possibility the missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet may have flown at low altitude to avoid radar detection, further masking its unauthorised journey by taking known commercial routes across Asia, is being investigated.

The new theory, reported in Malaysia's pro-government New Straits Times, comes as Australia took over search and rescue operations in the southern Indian Ocean after a request to Prime Minister Tony Abbott from his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak.

On Saturday, Mr Najib said satellite data showed MH370 flew for more than seven hours, identifying two possible routes - north-west across Thailand, China and towards northern Iran; or south-west across Indonesia and down into the southern Indian Ocean, about 1000 kilometres from the coast of Western Australia.

The north-west route would have taken the plane across numerous countries full of civilian and military radar as well as satellite surveillance, yet there has been no evidence that it was detected either in the air or on land, some nine days after it disappeared.

According to the New Straits Times, investigators are poring over MH370's flight profile to determine if it had flown low and used ''terrain masking'' to avoid radar detection

It could also have taken advantage of busy commercial routes, meaning the flight may not have raised the suspicion of those manning military radars.

''While the ongoing search is divided into two massive areas, the data that the investigating team is collating is leading us more towards the north,'' the sources told the paper.

The plane's captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was a highly experienced pilot with a passion for flight simulators, one of which he kept at home. But Malaysia police say they have examined his home simulator and found nothing unusual. Moreover, there was no evidence he had links to militant groups.

It also emerged that the last communication from the cockpit by an unknown person - ''All right, good night'' - was made after the plane's transponders had been deliberately shut down, supporting other evidence that the plane was hijacked or sabotaged.

The southern route, however, also remains an active source of investigation.

In a deepening of Australia's responsibility, Mr Abbott told Parliament on Monday afternoon the nation would co-ordinate operations in the vast search area to its west. He said there was no firm information to back claims the plane may have travelled towards Australia.

''But all of our agencies that could possibly help … are scouring their data to see if there's anything that they can add to the understanding of this mystery,'' he said.

Australia's powerful Jindalee radar network had the capability to detect the plane if it followed the southern route identified by investigators, Australian National University surveillance specialist Des Ball said.

However, defence sources said, it had not picked up information.

Australia has two P-3 Orion surveillance planes helping with the search. If one spots wreckage, a navy frigate would be deployed to investigate.