Malaysia will expand its search for the missing passenger jetliner, acting Minister of Transport Hishamuddin Hussein said here Friday even as the multinational forces continued scouring seas and lands for the seventh day.
“The aircraft is still missing, and the search area is expanding,” Hussein was quoted by Xinhua as saying at a press conference near Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). He adde: “We are now pushing further into the South China Sea, and further into Indian Ocean”.
Hussein said currently 57 ships and 48 aircraft are engaged in the search, which involves 13 countries. “Our priority remains finding the plane,” he added.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 with 239 passengers and crew on board vanished mysteriously about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur early morning March 8. The Boeing 777-200ER was presumed to have crashed off the Vietnamese coast in the South China Sea.
The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 a.m. March 8 and was due to land in Beijing at 6.30 a.m. the same day. The 227 passengers on the flight included five Indians, 154 Chinese and 38 Malaysians.
Contact with the plane was lost along with its radar signal at 1.40 a.m. March 8 when it was flying over the air traffic control area of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
On earlier reports that some unnamed US officials suggested the plane might have travelled for some time after losing contact, Hussein said that as a standard procedure, the investigation teams, including those from the US, will not release information until it has been properly verified and corroborated with the relevant authorities.
On Thursday, two oil slicks were sighted in the South China Sea, about 110 km south of the spot where the missing MH370 made last contact. Later investigation proved these slicks were not linked to the plane, said the minister.
Earlier Friday, a Chinese university announced that researchers have detected a “seafloor event” in the waters between Malaysia and Vietnam, an area where the missing airliner was suspected to have ditched.
The event occurred about one-and-half hours after the plane’s last definitive sighting on civilian radar March 8, Xinhua reported citing a research group on seismology and physics of the earth’s interior under the University of Science and Technology of China.
The area, 116 km northeast from where the last contact with the plane was recorded, used to be a non-seismic region, the group said. The seafloor event could have been caused by the plane possibly plunging into the sea,” the Chinese university research group said Friday.
The location of the event was identified based on records of two seismographs located in Malaysia.
If the data is proved to be linked to the missing flight, “the strength of the earthquake wave indicates the plunge was catastrophic”, according to the research group.
In an update on its website Friday morning, Malaysia Airlines said though it was fully aware of various ongoing media speculations, it has “nothing further to add to the information” it has already provided.
The airline reiterated it “will continue to give full support in cooperating with the search and rescue mission which is coordinated by the Department of Civil Aviation Malaysia (DCA) under the purview of the Ministry of Transport, Malaysia”.
It also promised to continue to provide regular updates to the public on all matters affecting flight MH370. The Malaysian company stressed that its focus at this point in time was to care for the families of the passengers and crew of flight MH370, which means providing them with timely information, travel facilities, accommodation, meals, medical and emotional support.
As the search expands to include the Indian Ocean, Malaysian authorities and the airline itself have continued to deny reports that the missing plane might have continued flying for some time after last contact.
Vietnam too extended its sea search to two new areas off the southern coast Friday, local officials revealed