Nobody knows quite where missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is. But researchers do know where it's probably not, and that's in the area investigators spent three years searching for evidence.
Officials with Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization released a report Friday confirming a theory that MH370 is likely located outside of the roughly 46,000-square-mile zone in the Indian Ocean authorities recently finished scouring. Using debris drift analysis, they pinpointed a smaller space north of that perimeter where they believe the Boeing 777 could be.
"Our final recommendation is way more precise than I dreamed we would be able to achieve," David Griffin, an oceanographer with the organization, said in a blog post. "When we started on this I thought we would be basing our conclusion on backtracking across the ocean. But that is doomed because of the distances involved. We stumbled upon something that gave much more certainty about the whereabouts of the plane than we anticipated."
MH370 vanished on March 8, 2014, as it was traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. The plane is thought to have crashed into the Indian Ocean, but only a few pieces of debris have turned up. An exhaustive, and expensive, scan of the ocean floor was suspended in January without results.
In December, just as the search was wrapping up, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau revealed research that indicated a 9,700-square-mile area north of the zone had "the highest probability of containing the wreckage of the aircraft," the Guardian reported. Friday's announcement supports that premise.
Australian scientists used an actual Boeing 777 flaperon, or wing part, cut down to match one of the only confirmed pieces of MH370 wreckage. They then simulated and tested how it would drift, which ultimately "added an extra level of assurance" to the December findings.
The families of the MH370 victims have long pushed for the search for the missing plane to be extended, but whether Friday's news will change anything for them remains unclear. Darren Chester, Australian transport minister, said in a statement shared with the Guardian that the report had been sent to Malaysia.
"But it is important to note that it does not provide new evidence leading to a specific location of MH370," Chester added.