Malaysian authorities have defended their handling of the hunt for the missing Boeing 777 - even as they acknowledged they are unsure which direction the plane was travelling in when it disappeared.
The mystery over the plane’s whereabouts has been confounded by confusing and occasionally conflicting statements by Malaysian officials, adding to the anguish of relatives of the 239 people on board the flight.
An international search mission for the Malaysian Airlines plane, which disappeared on Saturday, is now in its fifth day. Two-thirds of those on board were Chinese.
“There’s too much information and confusion right now. It is very hard for us to decide whether a given piece of information is accurate,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said today. “We will not give it up as long as there’s still a shred of hope.”
Malaysian defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein described the multinational search for the missing plane as an unprecedented and complicated situation, and defended his country’s efforts.
Some 43 ships and 39 aircraft from at least eight nations are scouring an area of 35,800sq miles.
“It’s not something that is easy. We are looking at so many vessels and aircraft, so many countries to co-ordinate, and a vast area for us to search,” he said. “But we will never give up. This we owe to the families.”
Malaysia Airlines flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday morning and fell off civilian radar screens at 1.30am, about 35,000ft above the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and southern Vietnam. It sent no distress signals or any indication that it was experiencing problems.
Malaysian authorities have since said air defence radar picked up traces of what might have been the plane turning back and flying until it reached the Strait of Malacca, a busy shipping lane west of the narrow nation 250 miles from the plane’s last known co-ordinates.
Military and government officials today said American experts, and the manufacturer of the radar systems, were examining that data to confirm it showed the Boeing 777. Until then, they said the search would continue on both sides of the country, with an equal focus.
Dozens of ships and planes searching waters have failed to turn up anything as yet, prompting officials to expand the hunt. Malaysia has asked India to join the search for the missing jet in waters near the Andaman Sea - far to the north-west of its last reported position.
“As of today, we have not found anything, but we are extending (the search) further,” Mr Hishammuddin said.
He praised India for joining the efforts, and vowed to keep up the search until the plane was found.
Air force chief Gen Rodzali Daud said air defence radar showed an unidentified object at 2.15am about 200 miles north-west of Penang.
“I am not saying it’s flight MH370. We are still corroborating this. It was an unidentifiable plot,” he said.
It’s unlikely the plane would have flown across Malaysia without being detected by civilian radar unless its electrical systems, including transponders allowing it to be identified by radar, were either knocked out or turned off.
Authorities have not ruled out any possible cause, including mechanical failure, pilot error, sabotage or terrorism. Both the Boeing 777 and Malaysia Airlines have excellent safety records. Until wreckage or debris is found and examined, it will be very hard to say what happened.
Earlier, Gen Rodzali released a statement denying remarks attributed to him in a local media report saying that military radar had confirmed that aircraft flew west and made it to the Malacca strait. The Associated Press contacted a high-level military official, who confirmed the remarks.
Indonesia air force Col Umar Fathur said the country had received official information from Malaysian authorities that the plane was above the South China Sea, about 12 miles from Kota Bharu, Malaysia, when it turned back towards the strait and then disappeared. That would place its last confirmed position closer to Malaysia than has previously been publicly disclosed.
Confusion over whether the plane had been spotted flying west has prompted speculation that different arms of the government have different opinions over where the plane is most likely to be, or even that authorities are holding back information.
Asked about this, Mr Hishammuddin said his government had been transparent from the start.
“There is only confusion if you want to see confusion,” he said.