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Aviation

Malaysia Airlines flight search expanded, search efforts defended

Radar contact with an unidentified flying object tracked shortly after the missing plane vanished has prompted Malaysian officials to expand the search zone. Authorities have also defended the handling of the crisis.

MH370 search widens

Malaysian officials held a press conference Wednesday to share the latest on the investigation in the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 plane.

Malaysia's air force chief, Rodzali Daud, said military radar detected an unidentified flying object in an area in the northern Malacca Strait at 2:15 a.m. local time on Saturday about an hour after the plane vanished from air traffic control screens. The area is hundreds of miles away from the spot where the plane vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Rodzali stressed that the reading was still being investigated and could not confirm whether it was MH370.

However, the detection has prompted an expansion of the search to the Andaman Sea north of Indonesia, which the Malacca Strait flows into.

Defending the search

Officials have faced mounting criticism after making a series of vague and conflicting statements regarding the plane's possible fate and circumstances surrounding its disappearance.

However, Malaysia's transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein denied that the search had now collapsed into bewilderment saying, "I don't think so. It's far from it. It's only confusion if you want it to be seen as confusion."

"I think it's not a matter of chaos. There are a lot of speculations that we have answered in the last few days," he said.

The hunt for MH370 has so far involved navies and air forces of 12 different nations and has focused on an area off Vietnam's South China Sea coast where it last made contact.

Holding out hope

Hishammuddin Hussein said Malaysia would "never give up hope" of finding the plane's 239 passengers and crew.

Civil aviation director Azharuddin Abdul Rahman also added, "We are still doing search-and-rescue operations and we still have hope."

"Chances of survival depend also on a lot of criteria because we don't know where the aircraft is."

Many experts are operating under the assumption there was a catastrophic event on the flight, such as an explosion, engine failure, extreme turbulence or even suicide.

The presence on board of two suspect passengers travelling on stolen passports also fuelled fears of a terrorist attack. These passangers were later found to be Iranian nationals possibly on their way to Europe to seek asylum.

hc/mz (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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