Expanding the search area to the Indian Ocean would be consistent with the theory that the Boeing 777 may have detoured to the west about an hour after take-off from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing.

"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 told reporters in Washington.

Carney did not specify the nature of the new information and Malaysian officials were not immediately available to comment.

The disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane is one of the most baffling mysteries in the history of modern aviation. There has been neither trace of the plane nor any sign of wreckage despite a search by the navies and military aircraft of more than a dozen countries across Southeast Asia.

Satellites picked up faint electronic pulses from the aircraft after it went missing on Saturday, but the signals gave no information about where the jet was heading and little else about its fate, two sources close to the investigation said on Thursday.

But the "pings" indicated its maintenance troubleshooting systems were switched on and ready to communicate with satellites, showing the aircraft was at least capable of communicating after losing touch with air traffic controllers.

The system transmits such pings about once an hour, according to the sources, who said five or six were heard. However, the pings alone are not proof that the plane was in the air or on the ground, the sources said.

Malaysian authorities have said the last civilian contact occurred as the Boeing 777-200ER flew north into the Gulf of Thailand. They said military radar sightings indicated it may have turned sharply to the west and crossed the Malay Peninsula toward the Andaman Sea.

The new information about signals heard by satellites shed little light on the mystery of what happened to the plane, whether it was a technical failure, a hijacking or another kind of incident on board.

While the troubleshooting systems were functioning, no data links were opened, the sources said, because the companies involved had not subscribed to that level of service from the satellite operator, the sources said.

Boeing and Rolls-Royce, which supplied its Trent engines, declined to comment.

Earlier Malaysian officials denied reports that the aircraft had continued to send technical data and said there was no evidence that it flew for hours after losing contact with air traffic controllers early last Saturday.

"It's extraordinary that with all the technology that we've got that an aircraft can disappear like this," Tony Tyler, the head of the International Air Transport Association that links over 90 percent of the world's airlines, told reporters in London.

 (Agencies)

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