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Almost 5 days after missing Malaysia airline still yet to be found

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More than four days since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
disappeared over Southeast Asia, Malaysian officials not only don’t
know what happened to the plane, they don’t seem sure where to look.
On Wednesday, officials announced they have once again expanded
the search area. It now covers 27,000 square miles — in the Straits
of Malacca and in the South China Sea.
The lack of a clear direction prompted Vietnam to say Wednesday
that it’s pulling back on its search efforts until Malaysian authorities
come up with better information on where to look.
“We have scaled down the searches for today and are still waiting for
the response from Malaysian authorities,” Phan Quy Tieu,
Vietnam’s vice minister of transportation, told reporters.
He described as “insufficient” the information provided so far on the
airline, which vanished early Saturday over Southeast
Asia with 239 people on board.
At a news conference Wednesday, Malaysian
transportation minister Hishamuddin Bin Hussein
defended his government’s approach.
“We have been very consistent in the search,” he said.
The path of the plane
Part of the cause of the veiled irritation on the
Vietnamese side seems to concern the deepening mystery
over the path the plane may have taken after it lost
contact with air traffic control on its scheduled flight
from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
What is a transponder?
A senior Malaysian air force official on Tuesday told
CNN that after the plane lost all communications
around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, it still showed up on radar
for more than an hour longer. Before it vanished
altogether, the plane apparently turned away from its
intended destination and traveled hundreds of miles off
course, the official said.
It was last detected, according to the official, near
Pulau Perak, a very small island in the Straits of
Malacca, the body of water between the Malay Peninsula and the
Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Those assertions, reported by CNN and other new organizations,
have fueled surprise among aviation analysts and a fresh burst of
theories about what might have happened to the plane. They also
appear to have created tensions between some of the different countries
involved in the search efforts.
Uncertainty over exact path
But some Malaysian officials have reportedly cast doubt on the details
of the change in direction.
One theory debunked
The New York Times cited Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad,
spokesman for the Prime Minister’s office, as saying that he had
checked with senior military officials, who told him there was no
evidence that the plane had flown back over the Malay Peninsula to
the Straits of Malacca, only that it may have attempted to turn back.
The Prime Minister’s office didn’t immediately return calls from
CNN seeking comment Wednesday.
But the air force chief Gen. Rodzali Daud didn’t go as far as
denying that the plane had traveled hundreds of miles off course.
The air force is still “examining and analyzing all possibilities as
regards to the airliner’s flight paths subsequent to its disappearance,” he
said in a statement Wednesday.
Rodzali said it “would not be appropriate” for the air force to “issue
any official conclusions as to the aircraft’s flight path until a high
amount of certainty and verification is achieved.”
At the news briefing Wednesday, Rodzali and other officials said it
wasn’t yet clear if an object that showed up in military radar records
flying over the sea northwest of the Malaysian coast early Saturday
was the missing plane.
The officials said they are asking experts from the U.S. Federal
Aviation Authority and National Transportation Safety Board to
help them analyze the radar data.
Searchers find no trace
The reported change of course would fit in with some of the areas that
search and rescue teams have been combing over the past several days.
Forty-two ships and 39 planes from 12 countries have been searching
the sea between the northeast coast of Malaysia and southwest
Vietnam, the area where the plane lost contact with air traffic
controllers.
But they are also looking off the west coast of the Malay Peninsula,
in the Straits of Malacca, and north into the Andaman Sea — areas
that would tally with a change of direction by the plane.
They are also searching the land surface in between those areas.
So far, though, searchers have found no confirmed trace of the plane
anywhere.
Vietnam scales back searches
Vietnamese authorities, who have been heavily involved in the
search, appeared to be showing increasing frustration Wednesday with
the information coming from the Malaysian side.
“Up until now we only had one meeting with a Malaysian military
attache,” Phan, the vice transportation minister, said. “However, the
information they have provided is insufficient.”
Vietnam informed Malaysian authorities that the plane was turning
westward at the time it disappeared but didn’t hear anything back,
Phan said.
For the moment, Vietnamese teams will stop searching the sea south
of Ca Mau province, the southern tip of Vietnam, and shift the focus
to areas east of Ca Mau, said Doan Luu, the director of
international affairs at the Vietnamese Civil Aviation Authority.
Doan also told CNN that Vietnam has asked Malaysian authorities
to clarify which location is the focus of their search, but that it has yet
to hear back.
Families’ frustration
Families of those on board the plane also want to know more, and
some have vented their anger.
“Time is passing by, the priority should be to search for the living!” a
middle-aged man shouted at meeting with airline officials in Beijing
on Tuesday before breaking into sobs. His son, he said, was one of the
passengers aboard the plane.
Other people at the meeting also voiced their frustration at the lack of
information.
Most of those on the flight were Chinese. And for their family
members, the wait has been long and anguished.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Wednesday appealed to
families of the people on board to be patient.
“What we want to tell them is that we must, indeed, consider their
feelings,” Najib said. “The families involved have to understand that
this is something unexpected. The families must understand more
efforts have been made with all our capabilities.”
The Chinese government had on Monday urged Malaysia to speed up
the investigation into what happened to the plane.
Analysts puzzled
The possibility that the plane changed direction and flew over the
Straits of Malacca has perplexed aviation experts.
Peter Goelz, former managing director of the National
Transportation Safety Board, said he thinks the information, if
correct, ominously suggests that someone purposefully cut off the
transponder — which sends data on altitude, direction and speed —
and steered the plane from its intended destination.
“This kind of deviation in course is simply inexplicable,” Goelz said.
Other experts aren’t convinced that there was necessarily foul play
involved. They say there could have been some sort of sudden
catastrophic electronic failure that spurred the crew to try to turn
around, with no luck.
“Perhaps there was a power problem,” said veteran pilot Kit Darby,
former president of Aviation Information Resources, adding that
backup power systems would only last about an hour. “(It is) natural
for the pilot, in my view, to return to where he knows the airports.”
Still, while they have theories, even those who have piloted massive
commercial airliners like this one admit that they can’t conclude
anything until the plane is found.
Authorities have said they’re not so far ruling out any possibilities in
their investigations.
For now, the massive multinational search has yielded no
breakthrough — which has only added to the heartache for the
friends and family of the 239 passengers and crew on board.
Source : CNN

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