Kuala Lumpur: Even as dozens of ships and aircraft from 10 countries scoured the seas around Malaysia and south of Vietnam on Monday, in a vast area that includes the Andaman Sea as well as the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, in search of the missing Beijing-bound Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, authorities today said that they will widen the search operation tomorrow.
In an unprecedented mystery, on Saturday night the ill fated jet disappeared over the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam after it lost contact with the ground controllers at 1:30 am with 239 people aboard including crew members, five Indians, 154 Chinese and 38 Malaysians.
After failing to find any clue about the missing plane past three days, the Malaysian authorities today said it will expand the search area, doubling it to 100 nautical miles starting tomorrow morning.
“Our focus right now is to try to locate the aircraft,” Xinhua quoted Hishammuddin Hussein, acting transport minister, as saying in a news conference yesterday afternoon.
Addressing a press conference yesterday, Hussein said that four P-3C Orions, with capability for long-range searches, offered by the US, Australia and New Zealand, are now in the search area, but he admitted that little progress had been made in finding the missing plane.
An intensified international search and rescue operation was launched on Sunday with 40 ships and 34 planes being roped in to hunt for the missing Boeing 777 jet.
Meanwhile, not ruling out a terror angle behind this incident, Malaysian authorities yesterday said that the two false passport holders who had boarded the aircraft were not Asian looking as its was expected before.
“I am still puzzled how come (immigration officers) cannot think, an Italian and Austrian (passengers) but with Asian facial features,” reports quoted Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as saying.
Some objects believed to come from the ill-fated flight that were found earlier, were later dismissed by the Malaysian authorities as irrelevant items.
In another news conference yesterday, the director general of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation said that all the objects spotted in the sea have not been confirmed as debris from the ill-fated plane.
“Unfortunately… we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft itself,” Xinhua quoted Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the Department of Civil Aviation, as saying.
Rahman said 34 aircraft and 40 ships from different countries, including China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the US, Thailand, Australia, and the Philippines were participating in the search and rescue operations over a wide area.
He also confirmed that two passengers who boarded the missing plane with false passports were not of Asian appearance.
He denied an earlier report that the two passengers boarding Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 with false European passports were Asian looking, but he did not elaborate on how they looked and where they were from.
Local media earlier Monday reported that one of the two suspects who used the stolen passports has been identified.
The man was identified using CCTV footage provided by the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), the Malaysian Star reported citing Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar.
“I can confirm that he is not a Malaysian but cannot divulge which country he is from yet,” Abu Bakar said at the Kajang police headquarters Sunday.
Meanwhile, tests on a sample of the oil slicks found off the eastern Malaysia coast revealed that it was not from the missing airliner.
Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) eastern region enforcement chief Nasir Adam said Monday that test results showed that it was caused by bunkering activities and not from an aircraft.
On Sunday, MMEA’s search team found an oil slick near Tok Bali, Kelantan state, but could not confirm whether it came from the missing plane.
China deploys 10 satellites for missing plane search
China today pressed 10 high- resolution satellites to scurry South China Sea to find leads that could help locate the flight with 239 people on board.
China’s Xi’an Satellite Monitor and Control Center has launched an emergency response for the search and adjusted up to 10 high-resolution satellites to locate the missing plane which is presumed to have crashed on Saturday, the People’s Liberation Army said.
Citing the Centre, the army said the centre purged the original commands of several satellites to offer full services in weather monitoring, communication and other aspects for the search, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Meanwhile, China today blamed Kuala Lumpur for a lack of information about the vanished Malaysia Airlines flight, as tearful relatives of the 153 Chinese passengers aboard voiced frustration with all sides of the response effort.
Nearly two-thirds of the 239 people aboard Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 were from China, and if the loss of the aircraft is confirmed, it would be China’s second-worst air disaster in history.
The Chinese government “urges the Malaysian side to step up their efforts to speed up the investigation and provide accurate information to China in a timely fashion,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang.