A woman stands in front of a placard featuring messages for passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia on March 12. More than four days after the Malaysian jetliner went missing en route to Beijing, authorities acknowledged Wednesday they didn’t know which direction the plane carrying 239 passengers was heading when it disappeared, vastly complicating efforts to find it. (AP Photo)
KUALA LUMPUR/PHU QUOC, March 12 (Reuters): Malaysia’s military has traced what could have been the jetliner missing for almost five days to an area south of the Thai holiday island of Phuket, hundreds of miles from its last known position, the country’s air force chief said on Wednesday.
After a series of at times conflicting statements, the latest revelation underlined that authorities remain uncertain even where to look for the plane, and no closer to explaining what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 or the 239 people on board.
The flight disappeared from civilian radar screens shortly before 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, as it flew northeast across the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand bound for Beijing. What happened next is one of the most baffling mysteries in modern aviation history.
Malaysian air force chief Rodzali Daud told a news conference that an aircraft was plotted on military radar at 2:15 a.m., 200 miles (320 km) northwest of Penang Island off Malaysia’s west coast. It was not confirmed that the unidentified plane was Flight MH370, but Malaysia was sharing the data with international civilian and military authorities, Rodzali said. “We are corroborating this,” he added. “We are still working with the experts, it’s an unidentified plot.”
According to the data from Rodzali, if it was the missing plane it would have flown for 45 minutes and lost only about 5,000 feet (1,500 metres) in altitude. There was no word on which direction it was headed and still no clue what happened aboard, prolonging the agonising wait for news for hundreds of relatives of those on board.
A position 200 miles northwest of Penang, in the northern part of the Strait of Malacca, would put the plane roughly south of Phuket and east of the tip of Indonesia’s Aceh province and India’s Nicobar island chain. Indonesia and Thailand have said their militaries detected no sign of any unusual aircraft in their airspace. Malaysia has asked India for help in tracing the aircraft and New Delhi’s coastguard planes have joined the search. A dozen countries are helping Malaysia in the search, with 42 ships and 39 aircraft involved, Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.
NOTHING RULED OUT
In the absence of any concrete evidence to explain the plane’s disappearance, authorities have not ruled out anything. Police have said they were investigating whether any passengers or crew on the plane had personal or psychological problems that might shed light on the mystery, along with the possibility of a hijacking, sabotage or mechanical failure. The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records of any commercial aircraft in service.