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Malaysian leader: plane's disappearance deliberate

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A Malaysian passenger jet missing for more than a week had its communications deliberately disabled and its last signal came about seven and a half hours after takeoff, meaning it could have ended up as far as Kazakhstan or deep in the southern Indian Ocean, Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday

Indian search finds no trace of Malaysian plane

 

ASHOK SHARMA, Associated Press

 

NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian navy ships supported by long-range surveillance planes and helicopters scoured Andaman Sea islands for a third day on Saturday without any success in finding evidence of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, officials said.

 

Nearly a dozen ships, patrol vessels, surveillance aircraft and helicopters have been deployed, but "we have got nothing so far," said V.S.R. Murthy, an Indian coast guard official.

 

The Indian navy's coordinated search has so far covered more than 250,000 square kilometers (100,579 square miles) in the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal "without any sighting or detection," the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

 

The search has been expanded to the central and eastern sides of the Bay of Bengal, the ministry said.

 

India intensified the search on Saturday by deploying two recently acquired P8i long-range maritime patrol and one C 130J Hercules aircraft to the region. Short-range maritime reconnaissance Dornier aircraft have also been deployed, the ministry said.

 

Bangladesh has joined the search effort in the Bay of Bengal with two patrol aircraft and two frigates, said Mahbubul Haque Shakil, an aide of Bangladesh's prime minister, Sheikh Hasina.

 

Seeing no headway, Malaysian authorities suggested Friday a new search area of 9,000 square kilometers (3,474 square miles) to India along the Chennai coast in the Bay of Bengal, India's Defense Ministry said.

 

On Friday, India used heat sensors on flights over hundreds of uninhabited Andaman Sea islands that stretch south of Myanmar, covering an area 720 kilometers (447 miles) long and 52 kilometers (32 miles) wide. Only 37 of 572 are inhabited, with the rest covered in dense forests.

 

The island chain has four airstrips, but only the main airport in Port Blair can handle a large commercial jet.

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Associated Press writer Julhas Alam contributed to this report from Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Najib's statement Saturday confirmed days of mounting speculation that the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 239 people on board was not accidental, and underlines the massive task for searchers who already been scouring vast areas of ocean.

"In view of this latest development, the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board," Najib said, stressing they are still investigating all possibilities as to why the plane deviated so drastically from its original flight path.

"Clearly the search for MH370 has entered a new phase," Najib told a televised news conference.

The Malaysian Airlines flight 370 was carrying 239 people when it departed for an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing at 12:40 a.m. March 8. The plane's communications with civilian air controllers were severed about 1:20 and the plane went missing in one of the most puzzling mysteries in modern aviation history.

Najib said investigators now have a high degree of certainly that one of the planes communications, the Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System, was disabled before the aircraft reached the east coast of Malaysia. Shortly afterward someone on board then switched off the aircraft's transponder, which communicates with civilian air traffic controllers.

The prime minister then confirmed that Malaysian air force defense radar picked up traces of the plane turning back westward, crossing over peninsular Malaysia into the northern stretches of the Strait of Malacca. Authorities previously had said this radar data could not be verified.

He then said the last confirmed signal between the plane and a satellite came at 8:11 a.m. Malaysian time — 7 hours and 31 minutes after take-off. Airline officials have said the plane had enough fuel to fly for up to about eight hours.

"The investigations team is making further calculations which will indicate how far the aircraft may have flown after this last point of contact," he said.

Najib said authorities had determined that the plane's last communication with a satellite was in one of two possible "corridors" — a northern one from northern Thailand through to the border of Kazakstan and Turkmenistan, and a southern one from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.

Najib said that searching in the South China Sea, where the plane first lost contact with air traffic controllers, would be ended.

The current search involved 14 countries, 43 ships and 58 aircraft.

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