Authorities on Wednesday said a missing Malaysian plane with 239 people aboard may have changed course before losing contact, as multinational search operations were widened to hundreds of kilometers from the original radius to cover the Andaman Sea.
“The RMAF does not rule out the possibility that the aircraft made turn-back before it disappeared from the radar and this is why the search and rescue operation had been widened to a larger area to include waters off Penang,” Malaysia’s Air Force (RMAF) chief General Rodzali Daud said.
“This resulted in the search and rescue operations being widened to the vicinity of the waters (off the west coast of Malaysia),” he said.
The Beijing-bound Boeing 777-200 plane had 227 passengers on board, including five Indians and one Indian-origin Canadian, and 12 crew members.
Rodzali denied a report that claimed he had confirmed that the missing Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 had been last detected near Pulau Perak in the Straits of Malacca far from its flight path.
He said the report in the Malay-language daily Berita Harian yesterday was “incorrect”.
The paper reported that Rodzali had confirmed the Butterworth base had received a signal that the missing plane made a turn back Saturday towards Kota Bharu in Kelantan state before it entered the airspace above the northern and east coast of Peninsular Malaysia.
That location would have indicated that the plane had banked far to the west of its intended flight path over the South China Sea.
Search and rescue operations which had been mobilised since early Saturday morning have failed to find the jetliner in the South China Sea and authorities have expanded the area of search into the Andaman sea, officials said.
Authorities have put the plane’s last known point of contact with air-traffic control off eastern Malaysia -roughly midway between Kota Bharu and the southern tip of Vietnam, flying at 35,000 feet.
The search for the missing plane entered the fifth day, as 34 planes, 40 ships and teams from ten countries are scouring the waters on the plane’s flight path and beyond to find it.
Meanwhile, Vietnam has said it is scaling back search operations in its waters. “We’ve decided to temporarily suspend some search and rescue activities, pending information from Malaysia,” deputy minister of transport Pham Quy Tieu said, adding that boats were still searching the area.