Malaysia Defends Probe Of Missing Airliner As Search Enters Day 5


UPDATED: Wednesday March 12, 2014 12:40 PM

Malaysia defended its handling of the hunt for the missing Boeing 777 on Wednesday but acknowledged it is still unsure which direction the plane was headed when it disappeared, highlighting the massive task facing an international search now in its fifth day.

Government officials said they asked India to join in the search near the Andaman Sea, suggesting they think the jetliner and the 239 people on board might have reached those waters after crossing into the Strait of Malacca, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the flight's last known coordinates.

The mystery over the plane's whereabouts has been confounded by confusing and occasionally conflicting statements by Malaysian officials, which have led to allegations of incompetence or even cover-up, adding to the anguish of relatives of those on board the flight, two thirds of them Chinese.

"There's too much information and confusion right now. It is very hard for us to decide whether a given piece of information is accurate," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing. "We will not give it up as long as there's still a shred of hope."

Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein described the multinational search as unprecedented. Some 43 ships and 39 aircraft from at least eight nations were scouring an area of 92,600 square kilometers (35,800 square miles) to the east and west of Peninsular Malaysia.

"It's not something that is easy. We are looking at so many vessels and aircraft, so many countries to coordinate, and a vast area for us to search," he told a news conference. "But we will never give up. This we owe to the families of those on board."

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday and fell off civilian radar screens at 1:30 a.m. about 35,000 feet above the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and southern Vietnam. It sent no distress signals or any indication it was experiencing any problems.

"All right, good night," were the last words from the cockpit to air traffic control in Malaysia before the plane entered Vietnamese airspace, Malaysian officials told around 400 relatives of the passengers at a meeting Wednesday in Beijing, according to a participant.

Malaysian authorities said Wednesday that a review of military radar records showed plots of what might have been the plane turning back, crossing over the country and flying to the Strait of Malacca, a busy shipping lane west of the narrow nation.

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