Malaysia Denies Missing Plane May Have Flown for Hours

Malaysian officials denied reports that a missing passenger jet continued flying for hours after its last known contact, and say Chinese satellite images do not depict any debris from the aircraft.

Transportation Minister Hishamuddin Hussein said Thursday that Malaysian Airlines (MAS) asked plane maker Boeing and engine manufacturer Rolls Royce about purported data showing the plane could have flown an extra 4,000 km over four hours.

"Since today's media report, MAS has asked Rolls Royce and Boeing specifically about the data. As far Rolls Royce and Boeing are concerned, those reports are inaccurate," he announced.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that U.S. investigators suspect the plane remained in the air for four hours after passing its last known location over the Gulf of Thailand. The report said the belief is based on data that is automatically sent by the plane's engines to the ground, and suggests the aircraft could have flown for an additional 4,000 km.

The Chinese satellite images emerged Wednesday, with state media saying they showed three fairly large objects near the plane's original flight path toward Beijing.

As the search for a missing Malaysian Airlines flight pushes into its sixth day, confusion and frustration is growing. With few leads for what happened to the jet and its 239 passengers and crew, authorities in Beijing pressed Thursday for the international effort to boost coordination.

The majority of passengers on board the flight were Chinese and in China many are following every new development both online and through media reports.

At a news conference following a major political meeting in Beijing, the first question Li Keqiang, China's State Council premier was asked was not about the economy or reforms, but the hunt for flight MH370.

Li responded that the Chinese government has asked relevant parties to enhance their coordination, investigate the cause, locate the missing plane as quickly as possible. He added that as long as there is glimmer of hope, "we will not stop searching for the plane."

The loved ones of those on board pressed officials for answers and clarity in cities across the region, from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur and in India. The Malaysian government has come under increasing pressure and criticism over its handling of the search for the missing plane.

Many grew increasingly frustrated and skeptical after authorities in Kuala Lumpur released conflicting information about where they suspected the plane was headed when it disappeared.

Transportation Minister Hishammuddin tried to deflect that criticism at Thursday's news briefing and assured the families of those aboard that Malaysia and the massive international search effort was doing everything they possible could to find the missing jet.

"This situation is unprecedented," he noted. "MH370 went completely silent whilst over the open ocean."

He added that Malaysia is in the middle of a multinational search that involves many countries, more than 80 ships and aircraft.

"This is a crisis situation. It is a very complex operation and it has not always been easy," the transport minister said.

The search area for the vanished passenger jet has expanded to more than 93,000 sq.km, as far east as the South China Sea and to India's territorial waters.

Malaysia's military said Wednesday its radar had picked up signs of what could have been a jet flying to the west of the country over the Malacca Strait about an hour after the last contact with Flight 370. If the radar data is from the Malaysian Air flight, the plane would have taken a sharp westward turn to reach that area.

Malaysia has shared the raw radar data with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board.

VOA News / Mar. 14, 2014 07:58 KST