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Search Area to Expand for Missing Malaysian Jet

Malaysian officials say they are set to significantly expand the search area for a missing Malaysian Airlines passenger jet that disappeared Saturday with 239 people on board.

The head of the Malaysian Civil Aviation Authority says the search area will be enlarged Tuesday after several days of looking with no signs of the missing plane. Dozens of ships and planes from several countries have been searching within a 92 kilometer radius from the point where the plane disappeared over the South China Sea.

The mystery deepened Monday, with investigators concluding that oil slicks found off the coast of Vietnam are not connected to the aircraft.

Meanwhile, a Vietnamese official (with the Regional Maritime Search and Rescue Coordination Center), who did not want to be named, confirmed to VOA's Vietnamese service Monday that there have been no signs of the Boeing 777, despite reports of debris being found.

"We suspected that the object we saw on Sunday afternoon was one of the doors of the missing plane, but nothing has been found. What we saw from rescue helicopters and what we actually found were different. Likewise, the spotted yellow object we retrieved was not a life raft from the missing Malaysian plane as was earlier suspected. I think we should not speculate that an object is a fragment from the airplane before actually retrieving it."

The plane, Flight MH370, disappeared from radar Saturday morning about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing.

Officials say they have not ruled out anything, including hijacking or a mid-air disaster. About two-thirds of the people on board were Chinese nationals, with the remainder from other Asian countries, Europe and North America.

Investigators have been looking into two passengers who boarded the aircraft with stolen Italian and Austrian passports.

On Sunday, officials investigating the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight said radar images show the missing jet may have inexplicably turned back before vanishing.

Also Sunday, Thai police said they were investigating a "passport ring" as details emerged of bookings for the flight made in Thailand with stolen European passports.

Two Europeans were listed on the passenger manifest, but neither man boarded the plane.

Both had their passports stolen in Thailand within the past two years. Malaysia is investigating the suspect passengers and the United States has sent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist.

The Malaysia Airlines flight disappeared from radar screens after taking off from Kuala Lumpur in good weather. Air traffic controllers say they did not receive a distress call before the jet disappeared.

The Boeing 777 is a very popular plane with an excellent safety record. The most recent accident involving a Boeing 777 was the Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco International Airport in July 2013. Three people were killed. Pilot error is suspected in that incident.

(This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.)

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