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Indian Ocean focus of MH370 search

The vast search for Malaysia's missing passenger jet has shifted to the Indian Ocean and another corridor toward central Asia. Malaysia says Flight MH370's possible route spans 11 nations and deep and remote waters.

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Missing Boeing flew northwest

The vast Indian Ocean and another corridor toward Asia's Caspian Sea became the focus Sunday of the search for Malaysia's missing airliner MH370. In Kuala Lumpur police have checked the missing pilot's private flight simulator.

China's state-run news agency Xinhua reiterated criticism of Malaysia's handling of the week-long airliner disappearance on Sunday, saying precious time and efforts had been "squandered" over the South China Sea.

That's where the Boeing 777 disappeared from radar with 239 people on board in the early night hours of March 8 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Two-thirds of its passengers were Chinese.

In a startling twist on Saturday,

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak revealed that the flight had doubled back

and flown towards the Indian Ocean. Xinhua said vital information had been "painfully belated" and search efforts "squandered."

Search switches to deep ocean

Najib said the Boeing's communications had been manually switched off before the jet veered westward. The last signal picked up by satellite came almost 7 hours after the plane re-crossed the Malaysian peninsula, presumably still half-fueled.

Acting Malaysian transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Sunday the search area spanned 11 nations, including "deep and remote oceans" and no longer just shallow seas.

Australia said at Malaysia's request it was sending an AP-3C Orion aircraft to search Indian Ocean waters around Australia's remote Cocos Islands, southwest of Indonesia.

Flight re-enacted?

The news agency AFP on Sunday retracted a story which had quoted a senior Malaysian military official as saying that the affected operator Malaysian Airlines had flown an identical Boeing 77-200 along the missing plane's suspected flight path.

Instead, its amended report said the exercise had been carried out on a flight simulator.

India's high commissioner to Malaysia T. S. Tirumurti said Malaysian officials had briefed envoys of some 20 nations on the search at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

Vast search area

Searching the Indian Ocean poses a major challenge

in vast, remote waters several kilometers deep, said an Australian civil aviation expert quoted by Reuters.

"There is almost no radar coverage," he said. "If anything is more than 100 kilometers offshore [west of Australia], you don't see it."

The only island groups further south are French-run research outposts, including the Kerguelen, which lacks an airport.

Malaysia has also asked nations of South and Central Asia for assistance stretching along much more frequented routes toward the Caspian Sea as far as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

No conclusions

Malaysia's transport ministry urged the public "not to jump to conclusions" about MH370's pilots, 53-year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah and 27-year-old first officer Fariq Abdul Hamid.

A senior Malaysian police official said the flight simulator programs found at Zaharie's home in Kuala Lumpur was normal for practice.

ipj/slk (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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