Sunday, June 24, 2018

Search for missing Malaysian airliner extended amid confusion

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Ships, helicopters and planes from a dozen nations widened the hunt for a missing Malaysian airliner Wednesday after newly divulged radar data suggested that the aircraft veered hundreds of miles off course before vanishing.

The information prompted the Malaysian government to ask India to join the search on the theory that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 might have flown west toward the Indian Ocean after it vanished from civilian air-traffic control systems at 1:30 a.m Saturday en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Adding to the welter of confusing and contradictory reports in the aviation mystery, a report from a Chinese government agency raised the possibility that the wreckage might be in the sea on the opposite side of Malaysia.

The China Center for Resource Satellite Data and Application said one of the government's satellites spotted "floating objects" in the "suspected crash area" of the Malaysian airliner. There was no immediate confirmation that the unidentified pieces were part of the plane's wreckage.

The center said a Chinese satellite called Gaofen-1 found "three suspected floating objects" at coordinates that would put them in waters northeast of Kuala Lumpur and south of Vietnam. It said images of the objects were captured Sunday, a day after the plane disappeared.

The center, a branch of China's State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, did not explain why the information was not posted to the agency's website until Wednesday.

China announced Monday that it had deployed 10 satellites to help in the search.

Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia's defense minister and acting transport minister, said 42 ships and 39 aircraft were scouring more than 35,000 square miles to the east and west of the Malay Peninsula for the aircraft.

Malaysia's air force chief, Gen. Rodzali Daud, said Wednesday an "unidentified plot" was seen on military radar intermittently for about 45 minutes after the plane disappeared. He said the radar trail ended at a point over the sea 200 miles northwest of Penang, on Malaysia's west coast.

"It's a plot. An unidentified plot," Rodzali said. "I'm not saying it's MH370."

However, aviation experts are questioning the quality of the radar data, which would indicate that the plane made a sharp left turn and flew hundreds of miles in the wrong direction.

Malaysia's uncertainty about the data largely explains why the search for evidence has been so chaotic. Authorities still don't know whether the plane carrying 227 passengers and nine crew members crashed or went on a ghost flight across the country and perhaps beyond.

The final words heard by air-traffic controllers from the cockpit before the plane vanished were "All right, good night," relatives of the passengers were told Wednesday, according to the Associated Press. The routine transmission shed no light on what happened to the Boeing 777.

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