Malaysia's air force has said an airliner that disappeared over the weekend may have turned back, but denied it was tracked to the Malacca Straight. Vietnam has scaled back its search efforts as it awaits clarification.
Malaysia's air force chief denied Wednesday that military radar had tracked a missing Malaysian Airlines flight over the Straight of Malacca, though he said the plane could have changed directions from its original course.
"The [air force] has not ruled out the possibility of an air turn-back on a reciprocal heading before the aircraft vanished from the radar," General Rodzali Doud said in a statement. "This resulted in the search and rescue operations being widened to the vicinity of the waters [off the west coast of Malaysia]."
Vietnamese authorities said Wednesday they were suspending their hunt for the flight as they waited for clarification from Malaysia over the potential new direction of the search operation.
"We've decided to temporarily suspend some search and rescue activities, pending information from Malaysia," Deputy Transport Minister Pham Quy Tieu told reporters, adding that a sea search was still ongoing but on a smaller scale.
Confusion over final hours
Authorities initially said flight MH370 and its 239 passengers and crew, which vanished on Saturday after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing, last made contact with ground controllers less than an hour into its journey at an altitude of 35,000 feet (10,670 meters), somewhere between Malaysia's east coast and Vietnam.
But local newspaper Berita Harian on Tuesday quoted Daud as saying military radar had tracked the plane flying at a slightly lower height of 29,528 feet near the tiny Pulau Perak island, at the northern end of the Malacca Straight, which separates the west coast of Malaysia from the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
The mystery surrounding the plane's disappearance indicate there is disagreement at the highest levels of government over where the plane is likely to have ended up. Many experts are operating under the assumption there was a catastrophic event on the flight, such as an explosion, engine failure, terrorist attack, extreme turbulence or even suicide.
International search effort
A massive international search effort has since been launched to locate the plane. It initially only focused on waters east of Malaysia, but on Tuesday the search area was expanded to the country's west coast.
The search operation for flight MH370 includes at least 42 ships and 35 aircraft from Southeast Asian nations as well as China, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Despite the extensive operation, no sign of the plane has been found.
Earlier on Tuesday, authorities said two of the flight's passengers who had been traveling on stolen passports appeared to have been young illegal immigrants from Iran seeking a new life in Europe.
dr/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)