News / Asia

Search Widens for Missing Malaysian Airliner

Malaysia's acting minister of transport Hishamuddin Hussein, second from right, speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sunday, March 16, 2014.
Malaysia's acting minister of transport Hishamuddin Hussein, second from right, speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Sunday, March 16, 2014.
Ron Corben
Malaysia says 25 countries are involved in the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines passenger jet that disappeared from radar more than a week ago.  Analysts are calling for greater regional cooperation in air safety and security.

Malaysia's acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said Sunday the search for the missing Malaysian Boeing 777 aircraft has increased to 25 countries and a focus on two key flight corridors, one to the Indian Ocean and another extending as far north as Central Asia.

Hishammuddin told a press briefing in Kuala Lumpur the extended search areas raised fresh challenges as hopes of finding the aircraft increasingly lay with satellite data.
 
MH 370, Possible last known positionMH 370, Possible last known position
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MH 370, Possible last known position
MH 370, Possible last known position
"The search area has been significantly expanded and the nature of the search has changed," said Hishammuddin.  "From focusing mainly on shallow seas, we are now looking at large tracks of land crossing 11 countries as well as deep and remote oceans.  The number of countries involved in the search and rescue operation has increased from 14 to 25 which brings new challenges of coordination and diplomacy."
 
Hishammuddin also called for the United States, China and France, among others, to provide further satellite details in the search for the aircraft.

Senior Malaysian police officers say a formal investigation into the captain and the co-pilot of flight MH370 is under way with raids on their residences in upscale suburbs of Kuala Lumpur.  But families and friends of the men have vouched for their good character.
 
The aircraft left Kuala Lumpur last Saturday morning on a regular flight to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew, but never reached its scheduled destination.  

  • Mike Barton, rescue coordination chief, right, shows Australia's Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss, the map of the Indian Ocean search areas during a tour of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's rescue coordination center in Canberra, March 23, 2014.
  • Royal Australian Air Force pilot Capt. Russell Adams, left, speaks to the media after returning from a search mission in an AP-3C Orion at Pearce Base, Perth, Australia, March 23, 2014.
  • Ground crew members wave to a Japanese Maritime Defense Force P3C patrol plane as it leaves the Royal Malaysian Air Force base heading for Australia to join a search and rescue operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, Subang, Malaysia, March 23, 2014.
  • Royal Australian Air Force commander Craig Heap speaks to the media after Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force's P-3C Orion arrived to help with search operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, at Pearce Base in Perth, Australia, March 23, 2014.
  • Royal Australian Air Force Loadmasters prepare to launch a Self Locating Data Marker Buoy from a C-130J Hercules aircraft over the southern Indian Ocean, March 20, 2014. (AFP PHOTO / AUSTRALIAN DEFENSE/LEADING SEAMAN JUSTIN BROWN)
  • John Young, general manager of the emergency response division of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, answers a question as he stands in front of a diagram showing the search area for flight MH370 during a briefing in Canberra, March 20, 2014.
  • A Royal Australian Air Force pilot steers his AP-3C Orion over the southern Indian Ocean during the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in this picture released by the Australian Defense Force, March 20, 2014.
  • A Chinese family member of a passenger onboard missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 screams as she is being brought into a room outside the media conference area at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur International Airport, March 19, 2014.
  • An image in support of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is seen on the United Malays National Organisation building in Kuala Lumpur, March 19, 2014.
  • Students watch as a group of artists finish a piece based on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that was painted on a school ground in Makati city, metro Manila, Philippines, March 17, 2014.

On Saturday, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak said "deliberate action" on board led to the flight to change its course and fly due west.  Investigations say the flight may have carried on for several hours.  Transponders attached to the aircraft's engines were sending data.  Analysis of data indicates the aircraft may have at some time been on the ground.

Sunday it was revealed that prior to a final exchange of "good night" to Kuala Lumpur air traffic control, the aircraft's vital communications addressing and reporting system or ACARS was shut down.  This came as the plane's identification transponder had also been turned off deliberately.
 
Analysts say only persons knowledgeable of aircraft would have taken such steps to shut down such communication and tracking systems.          

United States officials say the missing aircraft is likely to have been an "act of piracy" as the search focuses on two corridors north-west from Thailand to the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan border, and another extending to the southern Indian Ocean.

Defense analyst Carl Thayer, with Australia's University of New South Wales, says problems in the search point to the need for greater regional cooperation in air safety, especially between key powers such as the United States and China.  Chinese authorities have also been critical of Malaysia's efforts to reveal information, as most passengers on board were Chinese nationals.
 
"The lesson is that the major powers have got to learn how to cooperate," Thayer said. "[But] the prime responsibility when the plane supposedly went down in the South China Sea - Gulf of Thailand - is with Malaysia.  From my reading at the beginning Malaysia was very even-handed.  But once you have the plane turning west, China was just left standing there.  Then it moved to areas where India and the United States were better able to respond."
 
Thayer says regional bodies such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and regional partners need to apply earlier agreements on security and safety reached after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United Sates.  He also pointed to operational complacency as a factor that can undermine air security and passenger safety.

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