World News

Search for Missing Malaysian Plane Dramatically Expands

Malaysia says it is dramatically expanding the already vast scope of its search for a missing jetliner, as efforts to solve one of the most baffling aviation mysteries continue.

Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Friday unspecified "circumstances" forced the search to expand to the Indian Ocean, thousands of kilometers from the spot where the Boeing 777 vanished from civilian radar last week. He said the search has also been expanded to remote parts of the South China Sea.

"Two days ago the search area was widened to include the Andaman Sea. Together with our international partners, we are now pushing further east into the South China Sea and further into the Indian Ocean.''

Indian military aircraft have flown over the Andaman and Nicobar islands searching for the missing plane. The area is made up of more than 500 mostly uninhabited, heavily forested islands. India's navy is also involved in the search.

Hishammuddin also refused to comment on reports the plane kept sending automated electronic messages to communications satellites, hours after it vanished last Saturday en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.

"Ladies and gentlemen, there has been a lot of media speculation today after comments from unnamed U.S. officials suggested the plane may have travelled for some time after losing contact. As is standard procedure, the investigation team will not publicly release information until it has properly been verified and corroborated with the relevant authorities nor do we want to be drawn into specific remarks that unnamed officials have reportedly made in the media.''

Speculation is rampant about what was behind the disappearance of the Boeing 777 -- including mechanical failure, a hijacking, terrorism or the possibility the pilot wanted to commit suicide.

The initial search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 focused on the Gulf of Thailand, where the airliner was last seen on civilian radar. The Malaysian military has since said it may have tracked the plane hundreds of kilometers away, across the Malaysian peninsula in the Strait of Malacca.

Meanwhile, a Vietnamese government spokesman said Vietnam has expanded its search efforts to two new areas in the South China Sea where a Chinese satellite had spotted debris suspected to be from the plane.

But the spokesman denied that Malaysia asked Vietnam to consider sending planes and ships to the Strait of Malacca.

Nearly 60 ships and 50 planes from 13 countries are involved in the search.

Many of the family members of passengers on the plane are growing frustrated with what they feel is incomplete information from Malaysian authorities.

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

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