, KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 12 – The search for a missing Malaysian jet swung northwest towards the Andaman Sea on Wednesday, far from its intended flight path, exposing Malaysia to mounting criticism that its response was in disarray.
Vietnam scaled back its efforts to locate Malaysia Airlines flight 370, carrying 239 passengers, which had focused on the South China Sea where the jet last made contact on a journey between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing.
No trace of the plane has been found since it vanished on Saturday, and contradictory and incomplete information from Malaysian authorities has infuriated relatives enduring an unbearable wait for news of their loved ones.
“We are not going to leave any chance. We have to look at every possibility,” civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told AFP, confirming the expansion to the Andaman Sea, which lies north of Indonesia’s Sumatra island.
He did not indicate whether the decision to expand the multi-nation hunt hundreds of kilometres to the northwest of the original search radius was based on any firm indications the plane might be there. READ: Terrorism cannot be ruled out in missing Malaysia jet: CIA.
Authorities had earlier expanded the zone to the Malacca Strait off Malaysia’s west coast after citing radar data they said indicated a “possibility” the plane may have changed course from its intended flight path over the South China Sea.
But the shifting search areas have fuelled perceptions of official bungling.
Frustration mounted in Malaysia, with the country’s active social media and some press outlets turning from sympathy for families of relatives to anger over the fruitless search.
“The mood among Malaysians now is moving from patience in the search for the 239 people aboard the missing flight MH370 to embarrassment and anger over discrepancies about passengers, offloaded baggage and concealed information about its last known position,” Malaysian Insider, a leading news portal, said in a commentary.
Twitter users took aim at contradictory reports, and confusion over whether the jet had deviated from its intended course.
“If the Malaysian military did not see MH370 turn toward the Malacca Strait, then why the search? Who decided to look there and why?,” one comment said.
“I think Malaysia Airlines and the Malay government is trying to cover up or hide something about flight MH370,” wrote another.
The anger and embarrassment were compounded by a report aired in an Australian news programme of a past cockpit security breach involving the co-pilot on the missing jet.
Malaysia Airlines said Tuesday it was “shocked” over the report that First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, along with a fellow pilot violated airline rules in 2011 by allowing two young South African women into their cockpit during a flight.
The report included photos of the women in the cockpit, with one appearing to show them posing with a man resembling Fariq. Passengers have been prohibited from entering cockpit during flights after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.