|(Flight MH370) Confused Malaysian officials in a major muddle over path of Boeing 777
More than four days after a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 went missing en route to Beijing, authorities acknowledged today they did not know which direction the plane carrying 239 passengers was heading, complicating efforts to find it.
Amid ambiguous and occasionally contradictory statements by Malaysian officials, the civil aviation authorities and the military said the plane may have turned back from its last known position between Malaysia and Vietnam, possibly as far as the Strait of Malacca, a busy shipping lane west of Malaysia, AP reports.
How it might have done so without being detected on radar remains a mystery, raising questions over whether its electrical systems, including transponders allowing it to be identified by radar, were either knocked out or turned off.
Vietnamese officials gave conflicting accounts of whether the search effort was being scaled back. This likely will anger relatives of those on board.
Authorities have not ruled out any possible cause of the disappearance.
The search for the missing aircraft was begun from the spot it was last reported to be over the ocean between Malaysia and Vietnam. But Malaysian authorities have said search operations were ongoing in the Strait of Malacca.
Malaysia’s air force chief, Gen Rodzali Daud, released a statement denying remarks attributed to him in a local media report saying that military radar had tracked the aircraft turning back from its original course, crossing the country and making it to the Malacca strait. The Associated Press contacted a high-level military official, who confirmed the remarks.
Rodzali referred to a statement made on March 9 in which he said the air force has “not ruled out the possibility of an air turn back'' and said search and rescue efforts had been expanded to the waters around Penang Island, in the northern section of the strait.
“There is a possibility of an air turn back. We are still investigating and looking at the radar readings,'' the country's civilian aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said today.
It is possible that the radar readings are not definitive or subject to interpretation, especially if a plane is malfunctioning.
The confusion has prompted speculation that different arms of the government have different opinions over where the plane is most likely to be, or even that authorities are holding back information. The crisis may have led to internal mix-ups and miscommunication.
The Strait of Malacca that separates Malaysia from Indonesia's Sumatra Island is 400 kilometers from where the plane was last known to have made contact with ground control officials over the Gulf of Thailand at a height of 35,000 feet early Saturday.