KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Authorities hunting for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner expanded their search on land and sea Tuesday, reflecting the difficulties in finding traces of the Boeing 777 more than three days after it vanished with 239 people on board.
Recovering debris from the plane is vital to finding out what caused it to go missing and to prevent a repeat, as well as providing some closure for the families of passengers on board. In the absence of evidence, speculation over possible causes ranges widely, including terrorist attack, pilot error and plane malfunction.
The plane vanished off radar screens early Saturday morning en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur at 35,000 feet (11,000 meters), roughly in between the east coast of Malaysia and that of southern Vietnam. The airline says the pilots didn't send out any distress signals, suggesting a sudden and possibly catastrophic incident.
In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said the western coast of the country, near the Straits of Malacca, was "now the focus" of the hunt. That is on the other side of peninsular Malaysia from where flight 370 was reported missing, meaning if the plane went down there it would have had to fly over the country.
Malaysia's air force chief said Sunday there were indications on military radar that the jet may have done a U-turn.
Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the Malaysia Airline statement didn't imply authorities believed the plane was now more likely to be off the western coast. "The search is on both sides," he said.
China, where two-thirds of the passengers were from, has urged Malaysian authorities to "speed up the efforts" while also contributing ships and helicopters to the search.
A shopping mall in Beijing suspended advertising on its large outdoor LED screen to display a search timer — an image of an airplane along with a digital clock marking the time since contact with the flight was lost.
Speculation that it might have been a terrorist attack has been heightened by the fact that two passengers are known to have boarded the flight using passports stolen in Thailand. Authorities questioned travel agents Monday at a beach resort in Thailand who police say were involved in handling reservations and issuing tickets used by two men. The identities of the pair, who had both booked onward flights to Europe, aren't yet known.
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