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Malaysia intensifying, expanding search for missing jet

Posted on Mar 10 2014 | IANS

Kuala Lumpur, March 10 : An international team was intensifying and expanding search operations for the missing Beijing-bound Malaysian Airlines plane for the third day Monday even as Malaysian authorities said the two false passport holders who had boarded the aircraft were not Asian looking.

"Our focus right now is to try to locate the aircraft," Xinhua quoted Hishammuddin Hussein, acting transport minister, as saying in a news conference Monday afternoon as search and rescue teams continue their search in a vast area that includes the Andaman Sea as well as the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 with 239 people on board vanished without a trace about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur early Saturday. The Boeing 777-200ER was presumed to have crashed off the Vietnamese coast into the South China Sea.

The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 a.m. Saturday and was due to land in Beijing at 6.30 a.m. the same day. The 227 passengers on the flight included five Indians, 154 Chinese and 38 Malaysians.

In Monday's news conference, Hussein said that four P-3C Orions, with capability for long-range searches, offered by the US, Australia and New Zealand, are now in the search area, but he admitted that little progress had been made in finding the missing plane.

Some objects believed to come from the ill-fated flight that were found earlier, were later dismissed by authorities as irrelevant items.

In another news conference earlier Monday, the director general of Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation said that all the objects spotted in the sea have not been confirmed as debris from the Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines aircraft that went missing Saturday.

"Unfortunately... we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft itself," Xinhua quoted Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the Department of Civil Aviation, as saying.

Rahman said 34 aircraft and 40 ships from different countries, including China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the US, Thailand, Australia, and the Philippines were participating in the search and rescue operations over a wide area.

He also confirmed that two passengers who boarded the missing plane with false passports were not of Asian appearance.

He denied an earlier report that the two passengers boarding Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 with false European passports were Asian looking, but he did not elaborate on how they looked and where they were from.

Local media earlier Monday reported that one of the two suspects who used the stolen passports has been identified.

The man was identified using CCTV footage provided by the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), the Malaysian Star reported citing Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar.

"I can confirm that he is not a Malaysian but cannot divulge which country he is from yet," Abu Bakar said at the Kajang police headquarters Sunday.

Meanwhile, tests on a sample of the oil slicks found off the eastern Malaysia coast revealed that it was not from the missing airliner.

Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) eastern region enforcement chief Nasir Adam said Monday that test results showed that it was caused by bunkering activities and not from an aircraft.

On Sunday, MMEA's search team found an oil slick near Tok Bali, Kelantan state, but could not confirm whether it came from the missing plane.

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