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Previous Coverage: Flight MH370: No signs found of missing aircraft (March 11)

See the latest developments here

Overnight developments in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370:

  • More possible sightings ruled out
  • The search area has been widened
  • Two fake passport users still unidentified
  • Authorities are “puzzled” by the plane’s disappearance
  • Travel procedures at Malaysian airports under review

A massive air and sea search in the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea has found no signs of wreckage or survivors from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

Instead, the multinational rescue effort led by Malaysia has been frustrated by false leads in an area that has been expanded to 100 nautical mile radius of where the Boeing 777-200 was last reported on Saturday.

It was on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 227 passengers and 12 crew.

Scores of ships and aircraft from nations including the US and China are scouring the waters between southern Vietnam and Malaysia and as far away as the Malacca Straits. Oil slicks and ocean debris spotted by Vietnamese searchers have been ruled out.

A New Zealand Air Force Orion has been sent to the region to help in the search, which now involves 10 countries.

Two New Zealanders, Perth-based father of two Paul Weeks and Aucklander Ximin Wang, were on the flight.

The inability of searchers to find any substantive portions of the plane has contributed to the lack of clues for investigators to determine what might have happened to the aircraft.

Malaysia’s civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman says: “Unfortunately, we have not found anything that appears to be an object from the aircraft, let alone the aircraft … There are many theories that have been said in the media; many experts around the world have contributed their expertise and knowledge about what could happen, what happened … We are puzzled as well.”

None of the Beijing-bound plane’s transmitters appeared to signal distress before shutting down. When it was last tracked the aircraft was at a cruising altitude of 35,000ft in good weather.

“For now, it seems simply inexplicable,” says Paul Hayes, director of safety and insurance at Ascend Worldwide, a British advisory and aviation data firm.

“There’s no leading theory,” he noted, but jetliners “simply don’t vanish or disintegrate” and fall out of the sky without warning, unless there is sabotage or some catastrophic structural failure. So far, investigators haven’t hinted that they have firm leads on either front.

Normally a range of electronic transmissions help investigators and controllers track a plane’s altitude, direction and speed. But those so-called transponders aboard the Boeing 777 apparently didn’t report anything amiss, until they stopped working altogether.

Malaysian military radar readings indicated the plane may have reversed course and investigators were examining whether the plane attempted to turn around after encountering a problem.

The plane’s disappearance has already exposed flaws in global air safety. The disclosure that two passengers had stolen passports led Interpol to warn that few countries are rigorously checking its database to foil that practice.

The men using an Austrian and Italian passports stolen in Thailand have not yet been identified. Mr Rahman says CCTV images of the passengers boarding the flight showed one, or both, of the men resembled the black Italian footballer Mario Balotelli.

A Thai travel agent who booked them on to the plane told the Financial Times the tickets were arranged with an “Iranian contact” on behalf of clients looking for cheap tickets to Europe. The ticket involved an onward leg from Beijing to Amsterdam.

China is becoming increasingly impatient with Malaysia over the search. Half of those onboard were Chinese.

The foreign ministry says China had been urging Malaysia to speed up search and rescue efforts. China has dispatched more ships to the area and sent officials to Kuala Lumpur. It is also deploying its space satellites to help the search.

Malaysia Airlines has asked airport authorities, including Auckland, to step up security and baggage checks. Auckland has a daily flight to Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia Airways is continuing to provide support to the families of passengers and has announced five family members for each passenger will be able to fly to Kuala Lumpur.