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Malaysia expands search for missing airliner

Malaysian authorities have expanded their search for flight MH370, which went missing off southern Vietnam on Saturday. Radar evidence has given them reason to believe the airliner might have changed course, they say.

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Plane 'may have turned back'

Speaking at a media conference in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, Malaysia's air force chief told reporters that the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 had been expanded to the country's western coast, which faces Indonesia.

"The military radar indicated that the aircraft may have made a turn back and in some parts, this was corroborated by civilian radar," Malaysian air force chief General Rodzali Daud said.

"We are trying to make sense of this," Rodzali added.

However, the CEO of Malaysian Airlines, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, expressed scepticism at the new theory, citing the fact that air traffic control had not received a distress call, which would have been sent if the airliner had turned back.

"From what we have, there was no such distress signal or distress call per se, so we are equally puzzled," the Malaysia Airlines CEO said.

Some 22 aircraft and 40 ships are searching for wreckage and the 239 missing people who were on board the Boeing 777-200 ER aircraft. Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, China and the United States have contributed logistical support as the search continues. So far, no debris has been found. However, Vietnam has said that its rescue planes had spotted oil slicks near where the airliner lost contact with air traffic control.

On Saturday, the Malaysian Airlines flight took off from Kuala Lumpur into clear skies. It vanished at cruising altitude while en route to Beijing. The 777 was deemed "in proper condition" when it was inspected roughly 10 days ago, according to Malaysia Airlines manager, Ignatius Ong.

Stolen passports

Authorities were also investigating foul play in the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight.

Malaysian transport minister Hishamuddin Hussein said Malaysian investigators had launched a probe into the identities of at least two passengers on board who had been travelling on stolen passports. Malaysian authorities were in touch with the United States FBI as part of the investigation, according to the Malaysian transport minister.

China's Xinhua news agency said the persons named - an Austrian and an Italian national - were still alive and had had their passports stolen in Thailand last year.

Two-thirds of the passengers were from China, while the others came from other Asian countries, North America and Europe.

kms/tj (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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