Malaysia said on Tuesday it had conferred with the U.S. and
Chinese ministers on the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370,
an unprecedented 26-nation operation that now spans Asia from the
Caspian Sea to the southern Indian Ocean.
Investigators are convinced that someone with deep knowledge of the
Boeing 777-200ER and commercial navigation diverted the jet,
carrying 12 crew and 227 mainly Chinese passengers, perhaps
thousands of miles off its scheduled course from Kuala Lumpur to
But intensive background checks of everyone aboard have so far
failed to find anyone with a known political or criminal motive to
crash or hijack the plane, Western security sources and Chinese
China has begun to search for MH370 in Chinese territory, which
falls within the northern search corridor, said state news agency
Xinhua, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news
conference that 21 satellites were involved.
"In accordance with Malaysia's request, we are mobilizing satellites
and radar to search over the Chinese section of the northern
corridor which the Malaysians say the plane may have flown over," he
Australia, which is leading the southernmost leg of the search, said
it had shrunk its search field based on satellite tracking data and
analysis of weather and currents, but that it still covered 600,000
sq km (230,000 sq miles).
"A needle in a haystack remains a good analogy," John Young, general
manager of the emergency response division of the Australian
Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), told reporters.
"The aircraft could have gone north or south, and if it went south,
this is AMSA's best estimate of where we should look with the few
resources we have at our disposal for such a search."
STILL LOOKING FOR MOTIVE
China's ambassador to Malaysia said his country had carried out a
detailed probe into its nationals aboard the flight, which vanished
on March 8, and could rule out their involvement.
"The probe into the incident's cause is not suitable to be conducted
in a high-profile way," Ambassador Huang Huikang told Chinese
reporters, state television said on one of its official microblogs.
U.S. and European security sources said efforts by various
governments to investigate the backgrounds of everyone on the flight
had not, as of Monday, turned up links to militant groups or
anything else that could explain the jet's disappearance.
A European diplomat in Kuala Lumpur also said trawls through the
passenger manifest had come up blank.
One source familiar with U.S. inquiries said the pilots were being
studied because of the technical knowledge needed to disable the
aircraft's communications systems.
Malaysian officials said on Monday that suicide by the pilot or
co-pilot was a line of inquiry, although they stressed that it was
only one of the possibilities under investigation.
Flight MH370 vanished from civilian air traffic control screens off
Malaysia's east coast less than an hour after taking off from Kuala
Investigators piecing together patchy data from military radar and
satellites believe that someone turned off the aircraft's
identifying transponder and ACARS system, which transmits
maintenance data, and turned west, crossing the Malay Peninsula and
following a commercial aviation route towards India.
Thailand said on Tuesday a re-examination of its military data had
picked up the plane re-tracing its route across Peninsular Malaysia.
The Thai military had previously said it had not detected any sign
of the plane.
What happened next is less certain. The plane may have flown for
another six hours or more after dropping off Malaysian military
radar about 200 miles northwest of Penang Island.
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But the satellite signals that provide the only clues were not
intended to work as locators. The best they can do is place the
plane in one of two broad arcs — one stretching from Laos up to the
Caspian, the other from west of Indonesia down to the Indian Ocean
off Australia — when the last signal was picked up.
Malaysian police have searched the homes of the captain, Zaharie
Ahmad Shah, 53, and first officer, Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, both in
middle-class suburbs of Kuala Lumpur close to the airport.
Among the items taken for examination was a flight simulator Zaharie
had built in his home.
A senior police officer with direct knowledge of the investigation
said the programs from the pilot's simulator included Indian Ocean
runways in the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Diego Garcia and southern India,
although he added that U.S. and European runways also featured.
"Generally these flight simulators show hundreds or even thousands
of runways," the officer said.
"What we are trying to see is what were the runways that were
frequently used. We also need to see what routes the pilot had been
assigned to before. This will take time, so people cannot jump the
gun just yet."
Some U.S. officials have expressed frustration at Malaysia's
handling of the investigation. The Malaysian government still had
not invited the FBI to send a team to Kuala Lumpur by Monday, two
U.S. security officials said.
China has also repeatedly voiced impatience with Malaysia's efforts.
Malaysia's Defense and Acting Transport Minister, Hishammuddin
Hussein, told Reuters the country was co-operating with the FBI.
"I have been working with them," he said on Tuesday. "It's up for
the FBI to tell us if they need more experts to help because it's
not for us to know what they have."
Hishammuddin added that he had spoken to U.S. Defense Secretary
Chuck Hagel and "my counterpart in China" about the search for the
plane, now in its 11th fruitless day.
The U.S. Navy is sending a P-8A Poseidon, its most advanced maritime
surveillance aircraft, to Perth, in Western Australia, to assist
with the search.
The disappearance of the plane was a major topic of conversation at
the International Society of Transport Air Trading in San Diego, an
annual gathering of 1,600 airplane makers, buyers and lessors.
"The people that I deal with are looking at this with great concern — it appears considerable efforts may have gone into cloaking the
aircraft," said Robert Agnew, chief executive of aviation
consultants Morten Beyer & Agnew.
(Additional reporting by Niluksi Koswanage, Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah,
Stuart Grudgings and Anuradha Raghu in Kuala Lumpur, Mark Hosenball
in Washington, Michael Martina in Beijing and Jane Wardell and
Lincoln Feast in Sydney, Amy Sawitta Lefevre in Bangkok; writing by
Alex Richardson; editing by Nick Macfie)
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