Seismologists at a top Chinese university reported Friday that they had detected a slight "seismic event" on the sea floor between Vietnam and Malaysia on March 8 around the time that a Malaysian Airlines flight went missing with 239 people on board.
It was the latest in a series of conflicting reports of the whereabouts of MH370, which was last heard from on March 8.
The report, first carried by the South China Morning Post, is posted on the website of the University of Science and Technology of China on Friday.
The Chinese scientists with the university's Laboratory of Seismology and Physics of the Earth's Interior said in an online statement that the signal they had picked up from two seismic monitor stations in Malaysia appeared to indicate that a slight tremor occurred on the sea floor at about 2.55 am on March 8, about 90 miles off the southern tip of Vietnam.
"It was a non-seismic zone, therefore judging from the time and location of the event, it might be related to the missing MH370 flight," said the statement, which was translated from the original Chinese. It noted that location is "not an earthquake zone."
The "seismic event," according to the statement, occurred about about 85 minutes after the airliners lost contact with air control, and about 70 miles northeast of the spot where it was reportedly last heard from.
The new reports comes as the search for the missing plane has expanded into the Indian Ocean as investigators focus on the theory that the jet may have flown well beyond the current search areas and possibly even for several hours after losing contact with airport authorities.
The widening hunt comes amid intensifying speculation, based exclusively on unidentified U.S. investigators, that the plane may have been deliberately flown toward the Andaman Islands, although Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein refused to comment on those claims Friday in his daily new conference.
Hishammuddin said the investigation team will not address or release information about any of those claims, or others, until the suggestions have been verified and corroborated.
"I hope within a couple of days to have something conclusive," he told the press conference in Kuala Lumpur.
Much of the early search has focused east of Malaysia in the South China Sea, where the aircraft last communicated with air traffic base stations about an hour after departing on a flight to Beijing.
Six Indian navy and coast guard ships plus reconnaissance planes have searched eastern parts of Andaman seas over the past three days, and were expanding their search to areas west of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands chain Friday, said V.S.R. Murty, an Indian Coast Guard inspector.
On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal quoted U.S. investigators as saying they suspected the plane stayed in the air for about four hours after its last confirmed contact, citing engine data automatically transmitted to the ground as part of a routine maintenance program. The newspaper later corrected the account to say the information came from the plane's satellite communication link, not the engines.
A report published Friday by Reuters said that military radar-tracking evidence seen by investigators suggests an unidentified aircraft that those investigators believe is flight MH370 may have been deliberately flown toward the Andaman Islands. Reuters did not name the source of the information.
At least two other media reports, citing anonymous U.S. officials, reported that two communications systems were shut down separately on the flight deck of the plane, suggesting the aircraft did not suffer catastrophic failure.