- Military source says plane was tracked far from where it last made contact
- Source said radar tracked the plane over the Strait of Malacca on west coast
- Airline said on Saturday the flight last made contact off the east coast
Malaysia’s military believes the airliner missing for almost four days with 239 people on board flew for more than an hour after vanishing from air traffic control.
Air force chief Rodzali Daud has been quoted as saying the plane was tracked flying over the Strait of Malacca, on the other side of the country to where it disappeared from civilian radar. Malaysian authorities have previously said flight MH370 disappeared about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for the Chinese capital Beijing. At the time it was roughly midway between Malaysia’s east coast town of Kota Bharu and the southern tip of Vietnam, flying at 35,000 ft (10,670 metres).
Today however, Malaysia’s Berita Harian newspaper quoted air force chief Daud as saying the Malaysia Airlines plane was last detected by military radar at 2:40 a.m. on Saturday, near the island of Pulau Perak at the northern end of the Strait of Malacca.
It was flying at a height of about 9,000 metres (29,500 ft), he was quoted as saying. T”he last time the flight was detected close to Pulau Perak, in the Melaka Straits, at 2.40 a.m. by the control tower before the signal was lost””‘ the paper quoted Rodzali as saying. “A non-military source familiar with the investigations said the report was being checked.”
‘This report is being investigated by the DCA (Department of Civil Aviation) and the search and rescue team,’ the source said. ‘There are a lot of such reports.’
Meanwhile, a military official, who has been briefed on investigations, told Reuters: ‘It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait.’ The time given by Rodzali was an hour and 10 minutes after the plane vanished from air traffic control screens over Igari waypoint, midway between Malaysia and Vietnam. There was no word on what happened to the plane thereafter
.If the reports from the military are verified, it would mean the plane was able to maintain a cruising altitude and flew for about 500 km (350 miles) with its transponder and other tracking systems apparently switched off. The Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest shipping channels, runs along Malaysia’s west coast.
The massive search for the plane has drawn in navies, military aircraft, coastguard and civilian vessels from 10 nations. The search was widened today to cover a larger swathe of the shallow waters of the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea around the last known position of the plane. But searches were also being conducted on the western coast of Malaysia and northwest towards the much deeper Andaman Sea – based on a theory that the plane may have flown on for some time after deviating from its flight path.
‘This will be a long search. We need a long-term search plan,’ Do Ba Ty, Vietnam’s army chief of staff and deputy defence minister, told reporters.
‘We will expand search to the east in the sea and to the west on land and ask for Cambodia help…we will go where our friends go and make sure we inform our citizens and fishermen to request their help in the search.’
The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur, on the western coast of Malaysia, early Saturday en route to Beijing. It flew overland across Malaysia and crossed the eastern coast into the Gulf of Thailand at 35,000 feet (11,000 meters). There it disappeared from radar screens. The airline says the pilots did not send any distress signals, suggesting a sudden and possibly catastrophic incident.
In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said search and rescue teams ‘have expanded the scope beyond the flight path to the West Peninsula of Malaysia at the Straits of Malacca’. An earlier statement had said the western coast of Malaysia was ‘now the focus’, but the airline subsequently said that phrase was an oversight.
‘The search is on both sides,’ Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said, adding that the previous statement didn’t mean that the plane was more like to be off the western coast.
At the same time, the biggest ever Chinese naval deployment outside its waters is en route to seas around Vietnam to help in the search for the plane. The new statement said authorities are looking at a possibility that MH370 attempted to turn back toward Kuala Lumpur.
If it did indeed retrace its path, the plane could conceivably have crashed into the sea on the western coast, the other side of Malaysia from where it was reported missing. But this does not explain why it did not continue to show on radar while flying back toward Kuala Lumpur, and Malaysia Airlines or other authorities have not addressed that question. ‘All angles are being looked at. We are not ruling out any possibilities,’ is all that the Malaysia Airlines statement said.
Malaysia’s air force chief also said Sunday there were indications on military radar that the jet may have done a U-turn.
Over the last three days the search mission has grown to include nine aircraft and 24 ships from nine countries, which have been scouring the Gulf of Thailand on the eastern side of Malaysia. Apart from the sea, land areas are also being searched.
China, where two-thirds of the passengers were from, has urged Malaysian authorities to ‘speed up the efforts’ while also contributing ships and helicopters to the search. In the absence of any sign that the plane was in trouble before it vanished, speculation has ranged widely, including pilot error, plane malfunction, hijacking and terrorism. The terrorism theory has weakened after Malaysian authorities determined that one of the two men was an Iranian asylum seeker.
Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the possibility that the plane had been attacked by a terrorist group was ‘fading’ – adding that ‘terrorism is less likely’ – but then he revealed that an illegal act could not be ruled out.
He said: ‘We are looking into four areas – one hi-jacking, two sabotage, three a psychotic problem of passengers or crew, four personal problem among the passengers and crew. ‘We have been going through passenger manifests and we have communicated with our counterparts in at least 14 countries and also from other parts of the world and we have been exchanging information and intelligence.’