The Malaysian military is backing away from reports that it tracked a missing passenger jet far away from its intended flight path, casting further doubt on the plane's whereabouts.
In a statement Wednesday, Air Force chief Rodzali Daud said he could not rule out that the Malaysia Airlines jetliner veered drastically off course. But he said a media report that claimed the military tracked the jet over the Strait of Malacca was "clearly an inaccurate and incorrect report."
The Strait of Malacca is off the west coast of the Malaysia peninsula and is hundreds of kilometers from where civilian air traffic controllers lost contact with the Boeing 777. The initial search for the plane had focused mainly on the South China Sea, which lies off the east coast.
The plane, with 239 people on board, disappeared from civilian radar without any distress calls about an hour after leaving Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing early Saturday.
The head of Interpol says the disappearance of the jet does not appear to be related to terrorism. But John Brennan, the director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, said he would not rule out the possibility.
Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said new information about two Iranian men who used stolen passports to board the plane makes terrorism a less likely explanation for the jet's disappearance.
Interpol, the international police agency, released photos showing the two Iranians boarding the plane at the same time. They are identified as 19-year-old Pouria Nour Mohammadi and 29-year-old Seyed Mohammad Reza Delavar.
Malaysian Police Inspector General Khalid Tan Sri says the 19-year-old likely was trying to migrate to Germany.
"We have been checking his background. We have also checked him with other police organizations on his profile, and we believe that he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group. And we believe that he is trying to migrate to Germany."
The other man's identity is still under investigation. But the development reduces the likelihood they were working together as part of a terror plot.
Aerospace expert Wayne Plucker tells VOA he believes the Boeing 777 jet eventually will be found but that it might take some time.
"This may be a while. Remember that the Air France plane that went down off of Brazil (in 2009), it took quite awhile even though there was apparent wreckage on the surface. "
Plucker said the Boeing 777 has had a good safety record.
"There's nothing that points a finger at a problem. Malaysian Airlines has a good history of maintenance."
The search area spans a radius of 185 kilometers from where the jet disappeared, including areas on land.
Dozens of ships and planes involved in the search have failed to turn up any trace of the plane.
Malaysian officials have been exploring scenarios of what may have brought down the Beijing-bound jet, including an explosion, hijackers, pilot error or mechanical failure.
About two-thirds of the people on board were Chinese nationals, with the remainder from other Asian countries, Europe and North America.