Malaysian authorities have defended their handling of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 and say everything possible is being done to find the aircraft.
The country’s acting transport minister and defence minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said the search operation covered a vast area of ocean and necessitated complex coordination between the 12 countries involved in looking for the plane.
Forty-two ships and 39 aircraft are now scouring nearly 27,000 square nautical miles, mostly in the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.
Mr Hishammuddin said the challenge was unprecedented and quite overwhelming. The authorities were hiding nothing and were giving consistent information, the minister said, and there was neither chaos nor confusion.
Mr Hishammuddin and Malaysia’s Director-General of Civil Aviation, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, came in for some very hard questioning today from journalists who feel information is being released too slowly.
Officials did finally give more details about an aircraft that was spotted on military radar just after flight MH370 seemed to have disappeared.
The military radar records suggest that the missing plane may have turned around after take-off.
The radar showed a plane flying 200 nautical miles northwest of the island of Penang at an altitude of 37,000 feet until the signal was lost at 2.15 a.m. on Saturday.
Primary radar like this only shows the track a plane is taking; it doesn’t actually identify the aircraft, so no-on can know whether this was in fact flight MH370.
Penang is to the west of the Malaysian peninsula, in the opposite direction to the missing aircraft’s charted course across the South China Sea towards Beijing.
There is still no explanation as to why the plane would have done a turn-around.
Civilian secondary radar recordings, which provide information from a plane’s transponder, only showed a signal from flight MH370 in the Gulf of Thailand until 1.30 a.m. on Saturday.
More expert analysis of the radar readings was needed, Mr Hishammuddin said.
“We will never give up hope; this we owe to the families and the longer it takes to find the aircraft, family members are those I feel for so much,” he added.
The possibility of a turn-around remains, but there were also reports today stating that there was communication from the pilots when the aircraft was being handed over to Vietnamese air traffic control and all appeared to be fine on board.
India, Japan and Brunei are the latest to join the search operation.
The Chinese authorities have called on Malaysia to increase its efforts to find the missing plane.
Criticism from China
China has been critical of Malaysia’s handling of the plane’s disappearance, but Malaysia’s transport minister again defended himself, saying blame couldn’t be placed on any particular country.
He said it was natural, with a crisis of such magnitude, that China should feel aggrieved and that there should be heightened emotions. “This will not distract us,” he said.
Today an oil rig worker said he saw something burning in the sky 300 kilometres southeast of Vietnam. Vietnam sent a search team to investigate, but saw nothing to back up the report.
Yesterday, Malaysia’s police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, listed the four main avenues of his investigation: possible hijacking or sabotage, psychological problems among the passengers or crew, and personal problem among passengers and crew.
He said the Malaysian authorities had not received any information about any risk of terrorism prior to the missing flight’s take-off.
Suspect passengers identified
The main development yesterday was the naming of the two passengers who were travelling on stolen passports.
Malaysian police have named one of the men as a 19-year-old Iranian, Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad.
Interpol has named the second suspect passenger as 29-year-old Iranian Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza.
The secretary-general of Interpol, Ronald K. Noble, said Mehrdad and Reza travelled from Doha, the capital of Qatar, to Kuala Lumpur on legal Iranian passports, then used stolen passports to board the Malaysian Airlines flight.
Police say they don’t think Mehrdad was part of a terrorist organisation; they believe he was trying to migrate to Germany. Reza is also believed to have been heading to Europe in the hope of having a better life and is not thought to have terrorism connections.
Interpol say neither of the Iranian passports used by the two suspect passengers were in Interpol’s “lost or stolen” database.
Relatives of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board the missing plane have now been told to prepare for the worst.