KUALA LUMPUR, March 13 — The multinational search operation to locate the Malaysia Airlines plane that went missing Saturday further expanded Wednesday even as a Malaysian official said that an unidentified object was plotted on military radar that fateful day.
Malaysian Air Force Chief Rodzali Daud told reporters at a press conference here that the signal was detected by the military radar at 2.15 a.m. Saturday about 320 km northwest of Penang island.
“I am not saying it’s flight MH370. We are still corroborating this. It was an unidentifiable plot,” he said.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 with 239 passengers and crew on board vanished without a trace about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur early Saturday. 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. Saturday 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. Saturday when it was flying over the Ho Chi Minh City air traffic control area in Vietnam.
Earlier on Wednesday, the air force chief denied reports that military radar had tracked MH370 flying over the Strait of Malacca, although he did not rule out the possibility that the aircraft turned back before it vanished from radar screens.
Based on this possibility, the multinational search operation to locate the aircraft has been expanded with more countries joining in the mission which has entered the fifth day, officials said.
While acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Bin Tun Hussein said that the search areas have been expanded to the Strait of Malacca and South China Sea, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Shahidan Kassim said the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) has moved the search and rescue teams to the Andaman Sea.
India, Japan and Brunei were the latest to join in a massive search mission.
China sent a third military aircraft Wednesday to help search for the missing plane as the search range expanded to land areas.
The Chinese air force plane will join the two aircraft sent Tuesday to check for black box signals above waters suspected to be the crash site of the missing jet, Xinhua reported citing a military spokesman.
As of late afternoon Wednesday, eight Chinese vessels, including three warships, had arrived and were conducting search operations in the waters without finding debris or objects from the plane.
Dozens of vessels and aircraft from various countries have joined the search. Vietnam’s military said that it would also conduct search operations on land areas along two flight routes.
An international terrorism probe triggered by two Iranians boarding the missing plane with stolen passports is still continuing, with US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director John Brennan saying Tuesday the possibility of a terror link could not be ruled out.
Asked if the agency could rule out a terror link in the case, the CIA head said: “No, we’re not ruling it out. Not at all.”
Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said Tuesday that it appeared increasingly certain the two Iranians, Seyed Mohammed Reza Delavar and Pouria Nourmohammadi, were probably not terrorists but illegal migrants seeking a new life in Europe.
Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines said in a website update posted at 1 p.m. Wednesday that its “primary focus at this point in time is to care for the families of the passengers and crew of MH370”.
“This means providing them with timely information, travel facilities, accommodation, meals, medical and emotional support,” it said.
“As of now, we have 115 family members in Kuala Lumpur and they are taken care of by 72 different caregivers. At least one caregiver is assigned to each family together with a Mandarin translator for the families from China.