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MH370: Houston's sober warning

If searchers find no surface debris, they might have to "decide what to do next," warns the man in charge of coordinating the operation. Nine News

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A poorly coordinated multinational search for wreckage of missing Malaysia Airlines jet MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean may have set back the recovery effort by three days, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Confusion and lapses in coordination among different countries and companies trying to pinpoint where the passenger jet may have gone down led to the search team initially targeting a particular section of the southern Indian Ocean more than 1000 kilometres from where the plane is now thought to have crashed, the newspaper claims.

Late last week, the search zone was abruptly shifted closer to the West Australian coast, with search efforts now to concentrating on a zone 1100 kilometres north-east of the previous location due to what investigators called the “most credible lead” yet. That followed three days of fruitless searching in the previous zone.

The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane was set back three days, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane was set back three days, the Wall Street Journal reports. Photo: Reuters

The new search zone was calibrated after further analysis of data by an international technical team assisting Malaysia that indicated the aircraft was travelling faster than previously estimated, meaning it would have burnt fuel more quickly.

As a result, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau advised that the plane most likely didn’t travel as far south into the Indian Ocean as previously estimated.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that it had been told by two people familiar with the investigation that the new search area was determined by fully merging two investigative strands compiled by teams that had largely been working separately.

Some of the parties involved in the latest analysis were the US National Transport Safety Board and Boeing, the newspaper said.

‘‘One team’s calculations of the plane’s likely speed and rate of fuel consumption were based on radar data and aircraft-performance modeling,’’ the newspaper said.

‘‘Another team worked separately for at least several days using satellite data to calculate the plane’s likely trajectory, according to two people familiar with the matter.’’

The newspaper suggested there was little or no flow of information between the international experts contributing to the analysis of where the plane could have crashed.

‘‘People familiar with the Malaysian-led probe said it was an evolving process and investigators shared all relevant information with international partners,’’ the Wall Street Journal reported.

‘‘But Malaysian officials didn’t feel it was their role to ensure that foreign experts were sharing refined data among themselves, one of these people said.’’

James Keith, who served as the US ambassador to Malaysia from 2007 to 2010, told the newspaper that Malaysia did not have the necessary structure for inter-agency coordination.

‘‘It has exposed their lack of preparation to deal with such a disaster," he said.

Before the search area was shifted closer to the West Australian coast, British satellite firm Inmarsat said it had "no Malaysian radar data showing [Flight 370 was] faster" than 450 knots, one person briefed on the issue told the Wall Street Journal.

But by the end of last week, four days after Malaysian Prime Najib Razak announced that MH370 went down in the remote south of the Indian Ocean, an international team of technical experts concluded that the plane had indeed been flying faster than 450 knots and therefore used more fuel and likely went down earlier, the newspaper reported.

Officials have not said how fast they believed the plane was flying.

The Wall Street Journal said much of the information contributed by outside experts to the investigation went into "the pool and [is] refined by others," adding that those contributors often had "no right" to any of the subsequent analysis, under the investigation’s current structure.

Malaysia’s government has been widely criticised for its handling of the ongoing search for MH370, which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board.

In China, family members have angrily accused Malaysian authorities of incompetence and withholding information.

But the Malaysian Government has defended its efforts, declaring that "history will judge us well" in relation to the search and investigation.

smh.com.au