Indonesian Navy pilots Maj. Bambang Edi Saputro, left, and 2nd Lt. Tri Laksono check their map during a search operation for the missing Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 over the waters bordering Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand near the Malacca straits on March 10, 2014.
Malaysia said it will do “whatever it takes” to find a missing passenger jet as the search headed for its sixth day and yet another lead -- this one an e-mail investigated by Vietnamese authorities -- proved a dead end.
“This is unprecedented, what we are going through,” Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in Kuala Lumpur today. “Coordinating so many countries together is not something that is easy.”
Twelve countries, 42 ships and 39 aircraft were scouring land and sea to find the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. aircraft that went missing with 239 people on board. Malaysia widened the area being combed for signs of the plane -- missing since March 8 -- to include the Malacca Strait. That’s roughly in the opposite direction as the intended course of the Beijing-bound Boeing Co. (BA) 777-200 over the Gulf of Thailand.
Vietnam sent a crew today to search the Vung Tau area in the nation’s southeast after an oil-rig worker said he spotted what appeared to be a plane on fire and sent an e-mail to government officials. Earlier this week, an aircraft had alerted Hong Kong air traffic controllers about sighting metal debris in the sea near Vung Tau, Vietnam’s Civil Aviation Authority had said.
The absence of wreckage has kept alive various theories about the plane’s disappearance, from an accident to hijacking to sabotage. Malaysia’s Air Force chief today denied saying Flight 370 was tracked deviating from its path into Malacca Strait.
“It’s extremely difficult to develop a search area,” said David Jardine-Smith, Secretary of the International Maritime Search and Rescue Federation, in a phone interview today. “Looking for any small item on the surface of the sea is very, very difficult. It’s literally looking for the needle in the haystack.”
The aircraft, which disappeared without providing any distress signal, may have made an “air turn-back,” Hishammuddin said March 9.
The pilots didn’t signal trauma or danger before losing radio contact. Vietnam had informed Malaysian authorities from the outset that the last signal it detected from the airplane showed the aircraft likely turning to the west, Transport Deputy Minister Pham Quy Tieu said today.
Flight 370’s planned route carried it in a northerly direction from Kuala Lumpur, and would have taken it on into China. From its last known position in the Gulf of Thailand, reaching the Malacca Strait would have required a reversal of course executed without detection by ground-based radar.
“Our immediate focus is to find the aircraft,” Hishammuddin said today. “Unless we get the aircraft and the blackbox, it’s unlikely that we are able to answer a lot of speculative issues that have been raised out there.”
Malaysia is still combing through the passenger manifest and scouring the background of the crew for signs of personal or psychological issues, Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said in Kuala Lumpur. Photos and video of bags and cargo are being reviewed “piece by piece,” he said.
Two Iranian men who boarded the missing jet using stolen passports probably had no link to any terror group, Malaysia and Interpol said yesterday, damping speculation that the pilfered documents signaled an effort to attack the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. (MAS) plane after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur.
The men were identified by Interpol and Malaysia as Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, 29, and Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 19.
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency also said terrorism can’t be excluded, with CIA Director John Brennan telling an audience in Washington: “I wouldn’t rule it out, not at all.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the CIA, later emphasized the idea that a terror attack wasn’t necessarily a focus in looking at Flight 370. “While we do not have enough information to comment on the causes of this incident, we do not currently see any nexus to terrorist activity,” Michael Birmingham a spokesman, said in a statement. “Working with appropriate authorities, we will update our assessment of the causes of the incident when we have more information.”
Interpol Secretary General Ron Noble said the organization, which coordinates law enforcement across borders, said it also was more inclined “to conclude that it was not a terrorist incident.”