The search for flight MH370 shifted 1,100 kilometres north following a new "credible lead" yesterday, as five aircraft crews reported seeing objects in the water.
Australian authorities played down the radical redrawing of the search boundaries after a week-long hunt for the Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight in the Indian Ocean, but some experts described the move as baffling.
Three weeks after the plane disappeared, Australian authorities co-ordinating the hunt said new information from Malaysia suggested the plane ran out of fuel earlier than thought.
Radar and satellite data showed the jet had flown faster and so burned fuel quicker, coming down 1,850 kilometres west of Perth, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said.
The previous site and the new one are as far apart as Hong Kong and Manila.
Chief commissioner of the ATSB Martin Dolan conceded that pinpointing the crash site was a "somewhat inexact science".
Malaysia's acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said the change in focus did not alter the relevance of satellite images from several countries that appeared to show a possible floating debris field.
"Because of ocean drift, this new search area could still be consistent with the potential objects identified," he said.
Last night the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said flight crews had spotted various coloured items in the water, as 256,000 square kilometres of ocean were searched. Photos of the objects were being assessed overnight to determine whether they are from MH370.
Professor Sun Jinping , a radar signal processing scientist at Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said he was baffled by the shift in the search region, adding that there was "no room for such a mistake" on any radar system in use today.
"If the radar has been tracking the plane, it can definitely, precisely get its speed," he said.
Watch: The path Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 may have taken
Graham Edkins, a former safety investigator with the ATSB, said it was not unusual for a search to focus on the wrong area.
"You have to follow all the leads and unfortunately some of those leads may not have been right," he said.
The new information presented to passengers' relatives in Beijing was of little consolation, as hundreds walked out of a meeting with a Malaysian delegation.
Cheng Dongwei, a member of the family committee in Beijing, said of the shifted search area that "it did not come as a surprise any more".
Watch: MH370 victims' families desperately await hard evidence
Danny Lee in Kuala Lumpur, Stephen Chen and Adrian Wan in Beijing, and Kristine Kwok in Perth