Malaysia’s Air Force chief denied saying Flight 370 was tracked deviating from its path into Malacca Strait, adding to the confusion surrounding the search for the missing plane, which entered its fifth day.
“It would not be appropriate for the Royal Malaysian Air Force to issue any official conclusions as to the aircraft’s flight path until a high amount of certainty and verification is achieved,” General Rodzali Daud said in an e-mailed statement. He was referring to a Berita Harian newspaper report that he said cited him as saying an air base detected the plane in Malacca Strait.
Malaysia is widening the area being combed for signs of the plane — missing since March 8 — to include the Malacca Strait. That’s roughly in the opposite direction as the intended course of the Beijing-bound Boeing Co. (BA) 777-200 over the Gulf of Thailand.
The absence of wreckage has kept alive various theories about the plane’s disappearance, from an accident to hijacking to sabotage. The plane’s position when it vanished March 8 may be in doubt, said Richard Bloom, director of terrorism and security studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona.
“When flying over water, in my opinion there is no such thing as 100 percent accurate technology of any kind,” Bloom said in an interview. “Not all of that information may have been getting back. It could have been distorted by occurrences still to be determined.”
Media reports of radar data showing the jet at the Malacca Strait, to the northwest of Malaysia’s capital, is at odds with official announcements that Flight 370 was nearing Vietnamese airspace when controllers lost all contact.
Flight 370’s planned route carried it in a northerly direction from Kuala Lumpur, and would have taken it on into China. From its last known position in the Gulf of Thailand, reaching the Malacca Strait would have required a reversal of course executed without detection by ground-based radar.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for more effort in the search, according to a statement. Meanwhile Vietnam said it’s temporarily scaling back its search efforts as it waits for more information from Malaysia.
Dozens of ships and planes from at least 10 countries are helping in the search, which has drawn international attention to the mystery while families of the 239 passengers and crew await news. Japan is sending a disaster relief team, the Japanese embassy in Malaysia said.
“All ongoing search operations are at the moment being conducted to cover all possible areas where the aircraft could have gone down in order to ensure no possibility is overlooked,” Rodzali said in the statement.
The aircraft, which disappeared without providing any distress signal, may have made an “air turn-back,” Malaysian Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on March 9.
The pilots didn’t signal trauma or danger before losing radio contact.
Two Iranian men who boarded the missing jet using stolen passports probably had no link to any terror group, Malaysia and Interpol said yesterday, damping speculation that the pilfered documents signaled an effort to attack the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. (MAS) plane after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur.
The men were identified by Interpol and Malaysia as Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, 29, and Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 19.
Malaysia is still combing through the passenger manifest and scouring the background of the crew for signs of personal or psychological issues, Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said in Kuala Lumpur. Photos and video of bags and cargo are being reviewed “piece by piece,” he said.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the CIA, later emphasized the idea that a terror attack wasn’t necessarily a focus in looking at Flight 370. “While we do not have enough information to comment on the causes of this incident, we do not currently see any nexus to terrorist activity,” Michael Birmingham a spokesman, said in a statement. “Working with appropriate authorities, we will update our assessment of the causes of the incident when we have more information.”
Interpol Secretary General Ron Noble said the organization, which coordinates law enforcement across borders, said it also was more inclined “to conclude that it was not a terrorist incident.”
The communications blackout shrouding the plane after it fell out of touch included the transponder, a beacon that transmits a signal heightening an aircraft’s visibility on radar.
With current technology, it’s unusual for an aircraft to vanish without a distress call. When they do disappear suddenly, it’s typically because of an explosion. Yet that would create widely scattered debris, and search teams haven’t been able to recover any remnants. That the plane was a Boeing 777, one of the most reliable jets in the air, only adds to the puzzle.
Boeing and the National Transportation Safety Board have also started investigating, Ignatius Ong, an executive at the airline company, said in Beijing.
Flight 370 departed Kuala Lumpur at about 12:41 a.m. local time March 8 and was scheduled to land in Beijing at 6:30 a.m. Security screening was performed as usual, Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd. (MAHB) said.
While it’s rare for investigators not to find aircraft wreckage for days, it has happened. The longest period in modern aviation history between an airliner disappearance and initial findings of debris was seven years ago, when Adam Air Flight 574 disappeared off the coast of Indonesia’s South Sulawesi.
The Boeing 737-400, operated by PT Adam Skyconnection Airlines, lost contact with air traffic control Jan. 1, 2007. Only 10 days later was any wreckage found. Not until August did Phoenix International Inc., a U.S.-based marine salvage company, retrieve the flight data.
Vietnam’s government yesterday called for fishermen to help in searching for the jet.
Tran Van Duong, a 40-year-old fisherman from the resort island of Phu Quoc, where Vietnam has set up a command center to coordinate the search for the plane, said the region where planes, helicopters and ships are combing is “enormous.”
“It takes our ship 16 to 17 hours to get to the area where the search is deploying now,” said Duong, wearing a black baseball cap as he sat in the late afternoon sun with two other fisherman preparing nets at An Thoi port, at the southern tip of the 30-mile-long Phu Quoc island. “I have been fishing in that area for 17 years. You won’t be able to find anything quickly there.”