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29/05/2014 05:14 BST | Updated 29/05/2014 09:59 BST

MH370: Missing Malaysian Airlines 'Not Where Search Was Looking'

The search for the missing Malaysian Airlines plane appears to be in chaos today after it emerged authorities may have been searching in the wrong place because they mistook the noise of their own search ships for the jetliner.

A senior US Navy official involved in the search effort said the hunt in a southern part of the Indian Ocean - where a submersible robot has surveyed and found nothing - may have been a mistake and the 'pings' detected in early April were not, as had been thought, from MH370's black box.

But in contradictory statements that will likely bring more heartache for the families of the 239 people who disappeared aboard flight MH370, the US Navy was quickly forced to deny Dean's claims just hours later as "speculative and premature".

The confusion over the location of the plane was further compounded by Australian officials who declared the area where acoustic signals linked to MH370 could in fact be ruled out as its final resting place.

The developments are the latest in a series of setbacks in the controversy-plagued search which has been strongly criticised by families over the way information about the plane has been released.

"Our best theory at this point is that [the pings were] likely some sound produced by the ship... or within the electronics of the towed pinger locator," Michael Dean, the US Navy's deputy director of ocean engineering, told CNN.

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'Pings' that led authorities to believe MH370 had crashed in this area could have come from their own ships, the official admitted

"Always your fear any time you put electronic equipment in the water is that if any water gets in and grounds or shorts something out, that you could start producing sound."

A spokesperson for the US Navy later described Dean's comments as "speculative and premature" - despite the fact they appeared to have been backed up by the Australian agency leading the search.

The spokesperson told the American broadcaster: "I am not saying that what Michael Dean said was inaccurate but what we are saying is that it is not his place to say it.

They added the US Navy would continue "to work with our partners to more thoroughly understand the data acquired by the Towed Pinger Locater".

"As such, we would defer to the Australians, as the lead in the search effort, to make additional information known at the appropriate time," they added.

The Australian Government's Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre (JACC) backed up Dean's comments that the plane was not in the search area.

"(The submersible) completed its last mission searching the remaining areas in the vicinity of the acoustic signals detected in early April by the towed pinger locator," a JACC said in a statement, the BBC reported.

"The data collected has been analysed. As a result, the JACC can advise that no signs of aircraft debris have been found by the autonomous underwater vehicle since it joined the search effort.

"The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has advised that the search in the vicinity of the acoustic detections can now be considered complete and in its professional judgement, the area can now be discounted as the final resting place of MH370."

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The news will be more heartbreak for the families of those missing

The country's manager of opposition business, Tony Burke, said: "We offer our condolences and words of comfort to the families and friends of the passengers on MH370 who still await more news."

Australia's Transport Minister Warren Truss told parliament: “We are still very confident that the resting place of the aircraft is in the Southern Ocean."

A search official said earlier this month that the pings were "the most promising lead" in the search for the plane, which vanished on March 8 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The families of those lost on the plane have been very critical of the search, which has now been going on for nearly three months.

Families were deeply upset when Malaysian Airlines told them by text message that it believed the plane had been lost with no survivors.

At the start of May, families were told to "go home" when Malaysian Airlines closed the centre where it housed them and gave them daily briefings.

Earlier this week, the Malaysian government gave in to demands from family members and released the satellite data it had used to determine that the flight ended in the southern Indian Ocean, according to the Associated Press,

The conclusion comes from complex calculations derived mostly from hourly transmissions between the plane and a communications satellite operated by the British company Inmarsat.

Experts say it is unlikely to solve the mystery of MH370 and a range of conspiracy theories range from mechanical failure to hijacking or pilot murder-suicide, still hold sway.

The families had asked for the satellite data for weeks so they could be examined by experts.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will not meet with Chinese relatives of the victims - who account for around two thirds of those missing - when he visits Beijing in during a six-day trip this week despite demands from them to see him, Reuters reported.

"We've asked [Najib's office] today, we asked yesterday and the day before that. We've been demanding it for a month now with no response," a family member told Reuters.

"It's not right, he has an obligation to meet with us."