[PARIS] Just days after authorities mooted suspending the ocean search for missing flight MH370, researchers suggested on Wednesday that the debris zone may stretch a further 500km north.
A team of Italian scientists used computer modelling, into which they fed data on ocean currents and winds over the past two years, to try and pinpoint the Malaysia Airlines plane's likely underwater grave.
They also added information on the location of five confirmed pieces of debris found to date - two in Mozambique and one each in Reunion, South Africa, and Mauritius.
"One of the most important findings is that everything that has been discovered so far is indeed compatible with the area where the authorities are searching," lead researcher Eric Jansen of the Euro-Mediterranean Centre on Climate Change in Italy told AFP.
"The most likely (crash) area we found in our simulations overlaps with the official search area," he said. But it also stretches a further 500 km north.
"If nothing is found in the current search area, it may be worth extending the search in this direction," said Mr Jansen, while conceding "the area is very large."
Last week, Malaysia, Australia and China said hopes of finding the doomed plane were fading and the search would be suspended if nothing is found in the current search zone.
The Boeing 777 vanished on March 8, 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with 239 people aboard. It remains one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.
The Australian-led search operation is scanning the seafloor at forbidding depths within a 120,000 sq km area - nearly the size of Greece.
"I don't really expect that the authorities will change their opinion based on this" new data, said Jansen.
"The search is incredibly expensive and has being going on for two years," he said, adding: "it is, of course, a question of money."
Mr Jansen described the disappearance of the plane as "bizarre".
"It is important to understand what happened, not only for all the people directly involved, but also for the safety of aviation in general," he said in a statement issued by the European Geosciences Union, which publishes the Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences journal in which the study was carried.
"We hope that we can contribute to this, even if our study is just a small piece of a very complicated puzzle."