Search for missing Malaysia Airliner expanded to Indian Ocean

A boy waits for his family members arrival at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Kuala Lumpur, March 14: Malaysia Friday confirmed that search areas for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have been widened to cover the Indian Ocean, but made no comment on US reports that the aircraft sent signals to a satellite for four hours after it went missing. (Read: Missing Malaysian Airlines jet might be taken hostage)

“Together with our international partners, we are pushing further east into the South China Sea and further into the Indian Ocean,” Xinhua quoted Malaysia’s acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein as saying in a press conference.

There are currently 57 ships and 48 aircraft in the multinational search operation involving 13 countries that continued.

“Our priority remains finding the plane,” Hussein said.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 with 239 passengers and crew on board vanished mysteriously about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur early morning March 8. The Boeing 777-200ER was presumed to have crashed off the Vietnamese coast in the South China Sea.

The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 a.m. March 8 and was due to land in Beijing at 6.30 a.m. the same day. The 227 passengers on the flight included five Indians, 154 Chinese and 38 Malaysians.

Contact with the plane was lost along with its radar signal at 1.40 a.m. March 8 when it was flying over the air traffic control area of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

Referring to comments from unnamed US officials that engine data show that the plane kept flying for hours after last contact, the acting minister said the international team is currently working on verifying detailed information, but “we have nothing to confirm at this moment”.

He added that as is the standard procedure that the investigation team will not publicly release information until it has been properly verified and corroborated with the relevant authorities.

Malaysian authorities had Thursday refuted news reports that a Malaysian passenger jet may have continued flying for some time after last contact, saying these reports are “inaccurate.”

“We checked with Boeing and Rolls Royce, they said the reports are not true,” Hussein reaffirmed.

As to the two oil slicks sighted by the authorities in South China Sea, about 110 kilometers south of last point of contact with flight MH370, the official said test result of the samples collected from the slicks showed that they are not linked to the missing passenger jet.

On Thursday, two oil slicks were sighted in the South China Sea, about 110 km south of the spot where the missing MH370 made last contact. Later investigation proved these slicks were not linked to the plane, said the minister.

Earlier Friday, a Chinese university announced that researchers have detected a “seafloor event” in the waters between Malaysia and Vietnam, an area where the missing airliner was suspected to have ditched.

The event occurred about one-and-half hours after the plane’s last definitive sighting on civilian radar March 8, Xinhua reported citing a research group on seismology and physics of the earth’s interior under the University of Science and Technology of China.

The area, 116 km northeast from where the last contact with the plane was recorded, used to be a non-seismic region, the group said.

“The seafloor event could have been caused by the plane possibly plunging into the sea,” the Chinese university research group said Friday.

The location of the event was identified based on records of two seismographs located in Malaysia.

If the data is proved to be linked to the missing flight, “the strength of the earthquake wave indicates the plunge was catastrophic”, according to the research group.

Following futile efforts to track three pieces of debris picked up by Chinese aatellites, Vietnam Friday extended their sea search to two new areas off the southern coast.

Vietnamese officials at the Search Command Centre in Phu Quoc island said that five aircraft and eight boats have been sent to search the new areas and there are also four helicopters on standby to provide reinforcements if necessary.

Meanwhile, Singapore and Malaysia are sending flights to the reported location in South Vietnam where possible debris of the missing flight was spotted by Chinese satellites Thursday but the search proved to be futile.

At the request of Malaysia, Pentagon officials said that the US Navy 7th Fleet is moving one of its ships, the USS Kidd, into the Strait of Malacca, west of Malaysia.