Malaysia Expands Search for Missing Jet to Strait of Malacca
By Chong Pooi Koon and Ranjeetha Pakiam
March 12 (Bloomberg) — Air patrols are resuming for a fifth day in the hunt for Flight 370 as searchers in planes and ships prowl waters on both sides of Peninsular Malaysia after failing to find debris along the missing jet’s route.
Malaysia widened its scrutiny yesterday to include the Malacca Strait, across the country from the intended course of the Beijing-bound Boeing Co. 777-200 over the Gulf of Thailand. Hours later, the Associated Press reported that Malaysia’s military had radar data showing the plane reached the strait.
The lack of wreckage kept alive all the theories to the plane’s disappearance, from an accident to the possibilities of a hijacking or sabotage being investigated by Malaysian police. Richard Bloom, director of terrorism and security studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, said the plane’s position when it vanished March 8 may be in doubt.
“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.”
Dozens of ships and planes from at least nine countries are helping in the search, which has riveted international attention on the mystery and worn on families of the 239 passengers and crew.
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 forged documents signaled an effort to attack the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. plane after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur.
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 U.S. Central Intelligence Agency also said terrorism can’t be excluded, with CIA Director John Brennan telling an audience in Washington, “I wouldn’t rule it out, not at all.” 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 two users of stolen passports were identified by Interpol and Malaysia as Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, 29, and the younger one as Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 19.
AP’s account 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 nearing Vietnamese airspace when controllers lost all contact.
AP cited a local newspaper report quoting a Malaysian air force general and an unidentified military official whom the news agency said had been briefed on the investigation.
Flight 370’s planned route carried it over the Gulf of Thailand, 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.
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.
The aircraft, which disappeared without providing any distress signal, may have made an “air turn-back,” according to Malaysian Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein. That means the plane may have deviated from its planned route, Chief Executive Officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said. The pilots never signaled trauma or danger before losing radio contact between Malaysia and Vietnam.
The last known position of MH370 before it disappeared off the radar was 065515 North (longitude) and 1033443 East (latitude). 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. 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.
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