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Flight MH370: Search focuses on southern Indian Ocean

Latest developments in the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200ER:

  • Search now covers 2.24 million square nautical miles
  • Indonesia fails to permit overflights of search aircraft
  • Thai military releases radar data after 10 days
  • China says no evidence its nationals caused disappearance
  • Chinese relatives threaten hunger strike in protest
  • Confusion remains over last contact

Search area to be narrowed
Officials in Malaysia say they are trying to narrow the search area, which now covers about 2.24 million square nautical miles (7.68 million sq km). This is an area larger than Australia.

Flight MH370 went missing on March 8 with 239 people on board. Some 26 countries are involved in search efforts.

Malaysia says the plane was intentionally diverted and could have flown on either a northern or southern arc from its last known position in the Malacca Straits.

Search efforts are focused on two corridors - one stretching from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand, and another from Indonesia to the Indian Ocean.

China says it has started searching its territory for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, while Australia has narrowed its search area in the south.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa) says it may take weeks to search a 600,000sq km area off the south-western coast of Australia.

Amsa’s emergency response general manager, John Young, says an Australian P3 Orion has been searching an area 3000km southwest of Perth to search for flight MH370.

Three more Orions, including one from New Zealand redeployed from Malaysia yesterday, will join the search today, bringing the total number of search aircraft to six.

Amsa has collaborated with the US National Transportation Safety Board to generate a search area based on the available information transmitted from the flight before it disappeared. “This search will be difficult. The sheer size of the search area poses a huge challenge,” he says.

Search planes grounded in Indonesia
Japanese, American, and South Korean search aircraft remained parked in Kuala Lumpur because Indonesia has not issued permission for the planes to overfly Indonesia’s airspace.

Thai radar data released 10 days later
The Thai military have released military radar data, bolstering the theory that the plane flew west over the Malacca Strait.

The Thais say they had not provided the information earlier because no one specifically asked for it..

Air Vice Marshal Montol Suchookorn says a twisting route took the plane to the Strait of Malacca, which is where Malaysian radar tracked Flight 370 early March 8. But he says the Thai military doesn’t know whether it detected the same plane.

The westerly turn that diverted the plane off its flight path was programmed into the aircraft’s computer navigation system, probably by someone in the cockpit, the New York Times reports, quoting US officials.

"Instead of manually operating the plane’s controls, whoever altered Flight 370’s path typed seven or eight keystrokes into a computer on a knee-high pedestal between the captain and the first officer, according to officials," the Times reports.

"The Flight Management System, as the computer is known, directs the plane from point to point specified in the flight plan submitted before a flight. It is not clear whether the plane’s path was reprogrammed before or after it took off."

China makes terrorist check
China says no evidence of terror links has been found in the 153 Chinese passengers. It was also announced search and rescue operations are under way in the Chinese territories of the northern corridor. China has also deployed 21 satellites to help with the search.

Based on background checks, there is no evidence to suggest the mainland Chinese passengers were involved in hijacking or launching a terror attack, Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Huang Huikang Mr Huang says.

The state news agency Xinhua reports Premier Li Keqiang spoke to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak by phone on Monday, asking him to provide Beijing more detailed data and information in a timely, accurate and comprehensive manner.

Relatives of the Chinese passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight have threatened a hunger strike if the Malaysian authorities fail to provide more accurate information. Families vented their anger at a meeting with the airline in Beijing.

Late on Monday, US officials said the US navy ship USS Kidd had been taken off the search because the enlarged search area meant that "long-range patrol aircraft" were "more suited" to the mission.

The move was made "in consultation with the Malaysian government", officials said. USS Kidd had searched the Andaman Sea but found "no debris or wreckage associated with an aircraft.”

Last contact questions remain
Malaysian officials appear to have backtrack on Sunday's statement the words "All right, goodnight" came after a communications system was turned off.

Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein says the first officer, Fariq Abdul Hamid, is believed to have uttered the last words to Malaysian air traffic controllers at 1.19am – two minutes before the plane's transponder, which communicates with the civil radar system, stopped.

He says the last aircraft communications addressing and reporting system (Acars) transmission was at 1.07am, but adds: "We do not know when it was switched off after that. It was supposed to transmit 30 minutes from then, but that [subsequent] transmission never came through."

It is unclear why investigators appear so certain that the two communications systems were disabled deliberately, rather than malfunctioning. Attention has focused on the crew – particularly the pilots – because of the difficulty of shutting off the systems and because of the way the plane navigated subsequently.

No contact from passengers
It is also unclear at what point others on board became aware of the plane's diversion. Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya says investigators are looking at mobile phone records to see whether anyone on board tried to make calls or send texts, but so far there was no evidence of attempted contact.

Meanwhile, New Zealand engineer Paul Weeks, 39, who was travelling from his home in Perth to a new job in Mongolia, is among the passengers profiled in an Associated Press report, Others include a celebrated calligrapher, a chemistry lecturer en route to North Korea and a retired Chinese civil servant.