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Malaysia Denies Providing Inconsistent Information on Missing Plane

Malaysian officials are denying accusations they have provided inconsistent information on a missing jetliner with 239 people on board, as the search for the plane entered its fifth day.

Transport Minister Seri Hishammuddin said Malaysia is dealing with an "unprecedented" situation and will do "whatever it takes" to find the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that went missing Saturday.



"My heart reaches out to the families of the passengers and crew, and I give you my assurance that we will not reduce the tempo and that we will not spare any effort to find the missing plane."



At a news conference Wednesday, the minister said 42 ships and 39 aircraft from 12 countries have so far "found nothing" in their search, which now spans over 50,000 kilometers.

He said the focus is both on the South China Sea, where the plane was last tracked by civilian air traffic controllers, and the Strait of Malacca, which is across the Malaysian peninsula and several hundred kilometers away.

Earlier Wednesday, the Malaysian military backed away from statements that it last tracked the plane in the strait, which is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

At the news conference, a military official said the plane may have been spotted on radar at 2:15 a.m. Saturday local time 320 kilometers northwest of the Malaysian island of Penang. But, the official said, he cannot be sure it was indeed the flight in question.

If the plane did make it to the Strait of Malacca, it would call into question theories that the jet experienced some sort of sudden catastrophic event shortly after takeoff that prevented pilots from communicating with authorities.

The plane disappeared from civilian radar without any distress calls about an hour after leaving Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing early Saturday, when weather conditions appeared to be clear.



Many relatives of those on the plane are growing frustrated with a lack of answers and sometimes contradictory information from the Malaysian government.

After meeting with Malaysian government representatives Wednesday in Beijing, one family member, who identified herself as Ms. Li, said she does not feel sufficiently informed.



"I'm not very satisfied (with the meeting). There are many things that have still not been clearly explained and they still haven't met our requests."



China's government also said Wednesday that the conflicting information on the plane's course was "pretty chaotic."

Meanwhile, new allegations arose concerning past behavior of one of the plane's pilots. A South African woman, Jonti Roos, told Australia's Channel Nine TV the plane's first officer, Fariq Abdul Hamid, invited her and another woman into the cockpit on a flight two years ago.

Roos shared several pictures that appear to show her posing with Fariq and his co-pilot. She said the men talked and flirted with her for the entire flight from Thailand to Kuala Lumpur in December 2011.

In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said it was "shocked" by the allegations, which it said it takes "very seriously." The airline said it has not been able to confirm the validity of the pictures.

Malaysian officials have been exploring scenarios of what may have brought down the jet, including an explosion, hijackers, pilot error or mechanical failure.

At the Kuala Lumpur International Airport where the plane took off, many passengers were jittery. One passenger, Johan, said he is more concerned for the families of those on board the missing jet.



"I think the family members need to be strong with regard, you know, while waiting, although it's a very long wait, but they have to be strong and hope for the best because we still have no clues even at this point."



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."



About two-thirds of the people on board were Chinese nationals, with the remainder from other Asian countries, Europe and North America.

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