Malaysia Airlines MH370: Air Force Denies Malacca Strait Comments
Malaysia’s air force chief has denied remarks attributed to him that a missing Malaysia Airlines plane was tracked by military radar to the Strait of Malacca, far from its planned route.
Rodzali Daud said such reports in local media were untrue, but it was possible the plane had turned back.
Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing went missing on Saturday, after taking off with 239 people on board.
Meanwhile, Vietnam said it was scaling back some of its search activities.
“We’ve decided to temporarily suspend some search and rescue activities, pending information from Malaysia,” Vietnam’s deputy minister of transport Pham Quy Tieu said on Wednesday.
Earlier this week, Malaysia widened the search for the missing plane amid conflicting reports on its last known position. Early search efforts focussed on waters between Malaysia and Vietnam.
The Malaysian authorities initially said flight MH370 disappeared about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, as it flew over the South China Sea, south of Vietnam’s Ca Mau peninsula. No distress signal or message was sent.
On Tuesday, a local media report quoted Gen Rodzali Daud as saying that the flight was last detected by military radar at the Strait of Malacca, off Malaysia’s west coast.
On Wednesday, Gen Rodzali Daud said he “did not make any such statements”, but the air force had “not ruled out the possibility of an air turn-back”.
Meanwhile, AFP news agency reported that the search had been expanded into the Andaman Sea, north of the Strait of Malacca, citing Malaysian civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman.
“We are not going to leave any chance. We have to look at every possibility,” he said, without indicating why the search was expanded north.
‘Shock at allegations’
At least 40 ships and 34 aircraft from several different countries are taking part in the search for the plane.
Two-thirds of the passengers on board the plane were Chinese. Some were from a range of other Asian countries, North America or Europe.
Earlier, it emerged that two men travelling on stolen passports on board the plane were Iranians with no apparent links to terrorist groups, officials said.
Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines said in a statement that it was “shocked” by reports made against its First Officer, Fariq Ab Hamid, who was the co-pilot of the missing flight.
A South African tourist told Australia’s Channel Nine that she and her friend were invited to sit in the cockpit with Fariq Ab Hamid and the pilot during a flight in 2011, in an apparent breach of airline rules.
Malaysia Airlines said it took the reports “very seriously”.
“We have not been able to confirm the validity of the pictures and videos of the alleged incident. As you are aware, we are in the midst of a crisis, and we do not want our attention to be diverted,” it said.
Officials still do not know what went wrong with the aircraft.
None of the debris and oil slicks spotted in the South China Sea or Malacca Strait so far have proved to be linked to the disappearance.
In the US, CIA Director John Brennan said the possibility of a terror link could not be ruled out. But he said “no claims of responsibility” over the missing jet had “been confirmed or corroborated”.