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Malaysia Flight 370 mystery deepens

Updated: 2014-03-12 10:56
By Michael Barris in New York ( China Daily USA)

Malaysia Flight 370 mystery deepens

Airport staff move a white board plastered with messages of hope and encouragement to all involved with the missing Malaysia Airlines jet MH370 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Tuesday in Sepang, Malaysia. Authorities hunting for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner expanded their search on land and sea Tuesday, reflecting the difficulties in locating traces of the plane more than three days after it vanished. Wong Maye-E / AP

The mystery of the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner deepened Tuesday as a Malaysian military official said that Flight MH370 veered sharply off course and traveled hundreds of miles from its original destination, but the report was discounted by the Malaysian government.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that Malaysian police are investigating whether a hijacking or sabotage caused the airliner to vanish, and are compiling psychological and personal profiles of passengers and crew. No information has emerged that would link Flight 370 to terrorism, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said Tuesday.

John Brennan, director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, said Tuesday that although the cause of the plane's disappearance remains unknown, the US hasn't ruled out any theories, including terrorism as a possible cause.

"You cannot discount any theory," he said in answering questions at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

The Boeing 777-200 jetliner departed from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on Saturday with 227 passengers - 154 of them Chinese - and a crew of 12.

The report that Flight 370 veered off course came from Malaysia's air force chief, General Rodzali Daud, who was quoted in a Malaysian newspaper as saying the military had received "signals" on Saturday that after the aircraft stopped communicating with ground controllers, it stopped heading northeast and began heading west across Peninsular Malaysia and out over the Strait of Malacca.

The plane's transponder stopped sending identifying codes at about the time flight controllers lost contact with the aircraft, near the coast of Vietnam, Daud said.

The general's remarks raised questions about whether the military had noticed the plane as it flew across the country and when it informed civilian authorities, the New York Times reported.

Daud was quoted in the Malaysian newspaper as saying the plane was last detected by radar at a military base at 2:40 am, near Pulau Perak, an island more than 100 miles off the western shore of the Malaysian peninsula. The plane was then near the northern approach to the strait, a busy waterway that separates Malaysia and Indonesia's Sumatra island.

"After that, the signal from the plane was lost," he was quoted as saying.

The search for the plane - which is being coordinated by the Malaysian government - was initially focused on waters between the eastern coast of Malaysia and Vietnam, the position where aviation authorities last tracked it. More than 40 planes and ships from at least 10 nations are involved in the search operation.

Officials in China had been repeatedly told that authorities lost contact with the plane when it was on course over the Gulf of Thailand, east of the peninsula. A day earlier, authorities expanded the search area to the waters west of the peninsula.

Dan Rose, an aviation lawyer with Kreindler & Kreindler, a New York-based law firm specializing in aviation accidents, told China Daily the confusion over the plane's last location adds to the pain that passengers' relatives are feeling.

"The number one thing on their minds is what happened to their loved ones and is there a chance they're still alive," he said.

The disarray also raises the question of whether the search is being carried out in the best way, said Rose, a licensed commercial multi-engine airplane and seaplane pilot with more than 1,500 hours of flight time.

"You've got to question why it is taking so long," he said. "It raises underlying concerns - is the investigation being conducted properly?"

The plane's passengers included 20 employees of Texas-based digital networking processing company Freescale Semiconductor Inc -12 from Malaysia and eight from China.

A spokesperson for Freescale did not return a request for comment. A release said the company was "deeply saddened" by news of the plane's disappearance and would continue to "monitor the situation" and provide information "as it becomes available."

"We are solely focused on our employees and their families," President and CEO Gregg Lowe said in the release. "Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragic event". Counselors and other professionals are providing "around the clock support for those impacted by this tragedy" under a company employee assistance program.

The company also reiterated its promise to support the employees' loved ones in a posting on Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblogging service. "We deeply care for those families who are affected by this incident," the posting said. "We will try our best to keep professionals providing non-stop assistance to those involved, day and night."