AUDIO: White House says a new search may begin in Indian Ocean
Communications satellites picked up a faint 'electronic ping' from the missing Malaysian flight MH370 after contact was lost, according to sources.
The electronic pulse did not contain so-called maintenance data, despite the missing aircraft reportedly sending bursts of technical data back to the airline before it disappeared.
Despite an extensive search, no trace has been found of the missing plane since it disappeared from contact with ground control six days ago and aviation experts have so far failed to locate the aircraft's black box recorder.
International airlines use a reporting system which collects technical data during each flight so that engineers can identify problems. These reports are broadcast via satellite at various stages during the flight, including while at cruising altitude.
Malaysian Airlines have reportedly confirmed the missing flight had an Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) on board. However the signal received after contact was lost did not contain any mechanical data.
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David Gallo - one of the world's most accomplished scientists in his field - helped locate the black box data recorders of Air France flight 447 in the South Atlantic in 2011, two years after the plane crashed.
On the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines passenger jet, he said "This has rapidly become one of the great mysteries of all time in terms of loss of an aeroplane or ship at sea".
The White House has announced that a new search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean.
"It's my understanding that based on some new information that's not necessarily conclusive - but new information - an additional search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean" White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
"And we are consulting with international partners about the appropriate assets to deploy".
The Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammudin Hussein earlier denied reports that missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 flew for several hours after it was last seen.
The Wall Street Journal is quoting US investigators, who they say believe the plane flew for a total of five hours, based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the engines as part of a routine maintenance and monitoring program.
US counterterrorism officials are also said to be pursuing the possibility that a pilot or someone else on board may have diverted it toward an undisclosed location after intentionally turning off its transponders to avoid radar detection.
The engines' onboard monitoring system is provided by the manufacturer, Rolls-Royce, and periodically sends bursts of data about engine health, operations and aircraft movements to the ground.
But Minister Hishamuddin earlier dismissed these elements.