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Plane search expands to Indian Ocean

Updated: 2014-03-14 15:01
By Peng Yining in Kuala Lumpur, He Na in Beijing and Chen Weihua in Washington ( China Daily USA)

As mystery surrounding the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continues to haunt people around the world, the search for the Boeing 777-200 with 239 people on board has also been expanded from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean.

On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said some searchers were being shifted hundreds of miles west of Malaysia, far off course from the intended flight path of the jet.

"It is my understanding the one possible piece of information, or pieces of information, has led to the possibility that a new search area may be opened up over the Indian Ocean," Carney said. "We are consulting with international partners about the appropriate assets to deploy."

As part of the new search effort, the USS Kidd is moving to the Straits of Malacca and will arrive in the Indian Ocean search area in a day or two.

The expanded search came after US aviation investigators and national security officials said early Thursday that the plane remained in the air for hours after it lost contact with air traffic controllers and disappeared from radar screens last Sunday Beijing Time on its route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, according to Fox News.

Meanwhile, ABC News quoted two unnamed US officials as saying that the US believes the shutdown of two communication systems happened separately on Flight 370.

The data reporting system was believed to be shut down at 1:07 am. The transponder, which transmits location and altitude, shut down at 1:21 am. ABC News's aviation consultant said this indicates it may well have been a deliberate act.

Senior US administration officials told ABC News that the plane continued to "ping" a satellite on an hourly basis after it lost contact with radar. Boeing 777 jetliners are equipped with Airplane Health Management system in which they ping a satellite every hour.

"We have an indication the plane went down in the Indian Ocean," a senior Pentagon official said.

The widened US search operation also came hours after Malaysian officials said they had extended their search into the Andaman Sea and had requested help from India in the search for the missing plane and its 239 passengers, including 154 Chinese nationals.

However, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein indicated that the search's "main focus has always been in the South China Sea," which is east of Malaysia and along the plane's scheduled route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

While the search entered its sixth day on Thursday, various theories about the possible causes have gone rampant due to a lack of concrete information, from mechanical failure, pilot sabotage, pilot error to terrorism, catastrophic breakup and others.

More than a dozen countries and regions, including China, Malaysia, Vietnam and the US, have deployed nearly 40 aircraft and more than 40 ships in suspected crash areas in the South China Sea and Malacca Straits.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang vowed on Thursday that China will not give up its search for the jetliner and its passengers.

"The families are very anxious. We are also anxiously waiting for information. People's lives are involved, and it is a top priority," Li said when answering the first question at his NPC news conference.

China has sent eight ships and five aircraft to the search mission and one more ship is on its way. It has also mobilized 10 satellites, and they have located three floating objects.

Yan Dongmei, an official at the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said, "In previous efforts, the search area gradually narrowed as more information came in. But this time, the search zone keeps expanding."

The international effort to find the plane has been hampered by contradictory information, and no substantive clues have been found.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the jetliner might have continued flying for four hours after its last contact with ground control, citing data from the plane's engines that are automatically transmitted to the ground as part of a routine maintenance program. Malaysian authorities denied the report, saying it was inaccurate.

Hussein said the Malaysian government had contacted Boeing and Rolls-Royce, the engine manufacturer, and both said the last engine data was received at 1:07 am, several minutes before the plane lost contact over the South China Sea.

Richard Wray, director of external communications at Rolls-Royce, said: "We are currently not in a position to confirm or deny the report because flight data is supposed to be confidential until such time as the air accident investigator says otherwise. We are continuing to support Malaysia Airlines in its investigation."

Contact the writers at pengyining@chinadaily.com.cn, hena@chinadaily.com.cn and chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com.

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