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HindustanTimes Thu,23 Oct 2014
Missing Malaysian jet: Hope floats amid 'chaotic' info, India joins search
Agencies
Kuala Lumpur, March 12, 2014
First Published: 07:51 IST(12/3/2014)
Last Updated: 17:22 IST(12/3/2014)
A Chinese relative of passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, center, cries as she is escorted by a woman while leaving a hotel room for relatives or friends of passengers aboard the missing airplane, in Beijing. (AP Photo)

Malaysia's search effort for a plane missing with 239 people on board is "unprecedented" and authorities will continue searching until they find it, Malaysia's transport minister said Wednesday.

"We will never give up hope," of finding missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters.

Conflicting information about the course of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane with 239 people on board was "pretty chaotic", China's foreign ministry spokesman said Wednesday.

Asked about reports that flight MH370 could have veered well off course, as far as the Malacca Strait, Qin Gang told reporters: "We noticed that the Malaysian side later denied this piece of information.

"So right now there is a lot of information, and it's pretty chaotic, so up to this point we too have had difficulty confirming whether it is accurate or not."

Read: Conflicting information on missing plane's course 'pretty chaotic': China

12 countries including India have joined the search.

Coastguards from India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands joined the airborne search on Wednesday, a senior official told Reuters.

A Dornier aircraft belonging to the coastguard set off at 2.30 p.m. local time to search the eastern side of the Andaman islands, on orders from New Delhi, said VSR Murthy, the inspector general of the coastguard service on the islands.

Amid intensifying confusion and occasionally contradictory statements, the country's civil aviation authorities and the military both said the plane may have turned back from its original route toward Vietnam, possibly as far as the Strait of Malacca on the eastern side of the country.

How it might have done this without being clearly detected remained a mystery, raising questions over whether its electrical systems were either knocked out or turned off.

The last radio transmission from the cockpit of missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 was "Alright, good night", Kuala Lumpur's ambassador to Beijing Iskandar Sarudin reportedly said on Wednesday during a meeting with Chinese relatives of victims on the flight.

A tourist from Vietnam writes a message expressing hope for family members and those onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, in Kuala Lumpur. (Reuters Photo)

Authorities have not ruled out any possible cause, including mechanical failure, pilot error, sabotage or terrorism in the disappearance of the plane. The 777 is a modern aircraft with an excellent safety record, as does Malaysia Airlines.

Malaysia's air force chief has denied saying military radar tracked a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner over the Strait of Malacca, adding to the mystery surrounding the fate of flight MH370, which vanished on Saturday with 239 people aboard.

Vietnam said earlier on Wednesday it had suspended its air search for missing flight MH370 and scaled back a sea search as it waited for Malaysia to clarify the potential new direction of the multi-national hunt.

Read: Vietnam suspends air search for missing Malaysian jet
Timeline: The search for missing Malaysian jet

A massive air and sea search now in its fifth day has failed to find any trace of the Boeing 777, and the last 24 hours have seen conflicting statements and reports over what may have happened after it lost contact with air traffic controllers.

Malaysia's Berita Harian newspaper on Tuesday quoted Air Force chief Rodzali Daud as saying the plane was last detected by military radar at the northern end of the Strait of Malacca at 2.40 a.m. on Saturday, hundreds of kilometres off course.

"I wish to state that I did not make any such statements," Rodzali said in a statement on Wednesday. The air force chief said he had merely repeated that military radar tracking suggested the plane might have turned back.

A U.S. Navy SH-60R Seahawk helicopter lands on the destroyer USS Pinckney in the Gulf of Thailand, during operations in the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. (Reuters Photo)


Read: Malaysia military tracked missing plane to west coast: source
600,000 scan satellite images for clues to jet

A senior military officer who had been briefed on the investigation told Reuters on Tuesday that the aircraft had made a detour to the west after communications with civilian authorities ended.

"It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait," the officer said. Malaysian authorities have said previously that flight MH370 disappeared around 1.30 a.m., roughly midway between Malaysia's east coast town of Kota Bharu and southern Vietnam, about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing.

The Strait of Malacca, one of the world's busiest shipping channels, runs along Malaysia's west coast, while Kota Bharu is on the northeast coast.

After the comments from the officer, a non-military source familiar with the investigations said the reported detour was one of several theories and was being checked.

If the plane had made such a detour it would undermine the theory that it suffered a sudden, catastrophic mechanical failure, as it would mean it flew at least 500 km (350 miles) after its last contact with air traffic control.

A spokesman for the Malaysian prime minister's office said on Wednesday he had not been informed by the military of evidence showing the plane had recrossed the Malay Peninsula to reach the Malacca Strait.

"The people I checked with were not aware of that," spokesman Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad told Reuters.

Huge international search

A huge international search operation has been mostly focused on the shallow waters of the Gulf of Thailand off Malaysia's east coast, although the Strait of Malacca has been included since Sunday.

Navy ships, military aircraft, helicopters, coast guard and civilian vessels from 10 nations have criss-crossed the seas off both coasts of Malaysia without success.

In the absence of any concrete evidence to explain the plane's disappearance, authorities have not ruled out anything. Police have said they were investigating whether any passengers or crew on the plane had personal or psychological problems that might shed light on the mystery, along with the possibility of a hijacking, sabotage or mechanical failure.

"Maybe somebody on the flight has bought a huge sum of insurance, who wants family to gain from it or somebody who has owed somebody so much money, you know, we are looking at all possibilities," Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said at a news conference on Tuesday.

The airline said it was taking seriously a report by a South African woman who said the co-pilot of the missing plane had invited her and a female travelling companion to sit in the cockpit during a flight two years ago, in an apparent breach of security.

"Malaysia Airlines has become aware of the allegations being made against First Officer Fariq Ab Hamid which we take very seriously. We are shocked by these allegations. We have not been able to confirm the validity of the pictures and videos of the alleged incident," the airline said in a statement.

The woman, Jonti Roos, said in an interview with Australia's Channel Nine TV that she and her friend were invited to fly in the cockpit by Fariq and the pilot between Phuket, Thailand, and Kuala Lumpur in December 2011. The TV channel showed pictures of the four apparently in a plane's cockpit.

The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records of any commercial aircraft in service. Its only previous fatal crash came on July 6 last year when Asiana Airlines Flight 214 struck a seawall on landing in San Francisco, killing three people. U.S. planemaker Boeing has declined to comment beyond a brief statement saying it was monitoring the situation.

Related stories:

Aliens? Suicidal pilot? Twitter turns into conspiracy potboiler over #MH370
A missing plane and emotional reunion, played live on Twitter

Full Coverage: Malaysian Airline Flight MH370

(With inputs from Reuters and AFP)


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