China starts searching its territory for missing Malaysian jet

Last Updated : 18 March 2014, 13:21 IST
Last Updated : 18 March 2014, 13:21 IST

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China is scouring its territory in Tibet and Xinjiang for the Malaysian jetliner missing for 11 days, a senior diplomat said today as international efforts to locate the plane failed to achieve any breakthrough.

Beijing also ruled out involvement of its nationals on board the aircraft carrying 239 people in any hijack attempt.

China has started searching its own territory along the northern corridor to trace the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, China's Ambassador to Malaysia Huang Huikang said in Kuala Lumpur.

The search began after India, Pakistan and several other countries in the region denied that the plane might have flown over their territories towards Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

Based on latest information, the new search areas encompass a northern corridor stretching approximately from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand, as well as a southern one from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.

China said it was extremely concerned over the missing plane as 154 of the passengers are its nationals.

On its part, Malaysia maintained that the disappearance of its plane was a deliberate act.

Fresh reports surfaced that the flight's planned path was altered through a computer system in the cockpit.

With no definitive clue yet in one of the most puzzling aviation mysteries, Malaysia's Defence and Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters that the search area now covers a vast area of 2.24  million square nautical miles (7.7 million square kilometers).

The focus is now on huge areas over central Asia and Indian Ocean, territory size slightly larger than Australia, he said on the search operations for the missing Beijing-bound Boeing 777-200 Malaysia Airlines flight.

Twenty-six counties are assisting in the search operations.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei told reporters that China has deployed 21 satellites for the search operations.

"In accordance with Malaysia's request, we are mobilising satellites and radar to search over the Chinese section of the northern corridor which the Malaysian say the plane may have flown over," the spokesperson said.

In the Malaysian capital, the Chinese envoy said, "No passenger from Chinese mainland aboard the missing MH370 flight was involved in a hijack or terror attack."

Background check on all passengers from Chinese mainland has found no evidence on their involvement, he said.

He also said nine naval vessels are ready to scour new areas along the southern corridor after concluding their futile hunt in South China Sea.

The Chinese envoy said since a criminal investigation has been launched into the missing plane, some information is not suitable for disclosure at this moment.

"The Malaysian government has been doing its best in search and investigation, but it lacks experience and capability to handle this kind of incident," he said.

Hishammuddin said that based on new satellite information, investigators can say with a high degree of certainty that the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) was disabled just before the aircraft reached the East coast of peninsular Malaysia.

These findings were drafted together with representatives from the lead international investigators, based on the information available at the time. "This does not change our belief, as stated, that up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage, the aircraft’s movements were consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane. That remains the position of the investigating team," he said.

Meanwhile, a report in New York Times said the turn to the west that diverted the missing plane from its planned flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing was carried out through a computer system that was most likely programmed by someone in the plane's cockpit who was knowledgeable about airplane systems.

Quoting senior American officials, the paper said instead of manually operating the plane's controls, whoever altered the flight path typed seven or eight keystrokes into a computer in the cockpit. Reacting to the report, Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari said the flight plan was for Beijing.

"But once you are in the cockpit, anything is possible," he said, adding they are ruling nothing out in the investigation into what went wrong. When asked if the two pilots had flown earlier to the northern corridor, Jauhari said Malaysian Airlines did not fly on that corridor.

Refusing to speculate, Hishamuddin said this was a unique and complex situation and "I believe if we can find the plane and its black box soon all questions would be answered". Australia said it had drastically narrowed its sector of the search area but was still looking in an expanse of ocean the size of Spain and Portugal.

Hishamuddin said Malaysia was looking to the US to help in the search in the southern corridor. He said the subject came up in a discussion with US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel.

"The US has best ability to assist us in southern corridor," Hishamuddin said.

He said the southern search area has more of challenge because the area was so huge. He has asked the Malaysia military and its international partners to re-examine radar and satellite data.

"The search and rescue operations have taken on a new international dimension. The search is still co-ordinated by Malaysia, but our partners have taken an increasing role in organising and carrying out operations, both within their own territory and also within agreed search sectors," he said.

A UN-backed nuclear watchdog has said that it did not detect either any explosion or crash that could be linked to the missing plane.

"Regarding the missing Malaysian Airlines flight... the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) confirmed that neither an explosion nor a plane crash on land or on water had been detected so far," Spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Stephane Dujarric said.

As Hishammuddin tired to clarify when the plane's Acars system was switched off, he insisted that the exact timing of the switch off does not effect the search effort.

Hishammuddin rejected criticism from US officials that Malaysia has not been sharing as much information as it could with foreign governments.

He denied reports that Malaysia had discouraged the Federal Bureau of Investigation from sending a team to Malaysia.

"I have been working with them. It's up to the FBI to tell us if they need more experts to help because it's not for us to know what they have."

Asked about the threat of hunger strike by relatives of those missing, Malaysia Airlines CEO said the company was doing "all it can" to keep relatives updated.

Malaysia's minister of foreign affairs, Anifah bin Haji Aman, told reporters that the search was "beyond politics". He said "all efforts should focus on finding the plane" and thanked Malaysia's international partners for their help.

Published 18 March 2014, 13:18 IST

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