KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — More than four days after a Malaysian jetliner went missing on route to Beijing, authorities acknowledged Wednesday they didn't know in which direction the plane and its 239 passengers was heading when it disappeared, vastly complicating efforts to find it.
Amid intensifying confusion and occasionally contradictory statements, the country's civil aviation authorities and the military both said the plane may have turned back from its original route toward Vietnam, possibly as far as the Strait of Malacca on the eastern side of the country.
How it might have done this without being clearly detected remained a mystery, raising questions over whether its electrical systems were either knocked out or turned off.
Authorities have not ruled out any possible cause, including mechanical failure, pilot error, sabotage or terrorism in the disappearance of the plane. The 777 is a modern aircraft with an excellent safety record, as does Malaysia Airlines.
Authorities began their search for the missing aircraft at the position it was last reported to be at over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam. But they have also said search operations were ongoing in the Malacca strait. Scores of planes and aircraft have been scouring both locations.
The country's air force chief, Gen. Rodzali Daud, released a statement denying remarks attributed to him in a local media report saying that military radar had managed to track the aircraft turning back from its original course, crossing the country and making it to the Malacca strait to the west of Malaysia. The Associated Press contacted a high-level military official, who confirmed the remarks.
Rodzali referred to a statement he said he made March 9 in which he said the air force has "not ruled out the possibility of an air turn back" and said search and rescue efforts had been expanded to the waters around Penang Island, in the northern section of the strait.
It is possible that the radar readings are not definitive or subject to interpretation, especially if a plane is malfunctioning.
The country's civilian aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said he could neither confirm nor deny military's remarks. That suggests disagreement or confusion at the highest level over where the plane is most likely to have ended up.
"There is a possibility of an air turn back. We are still investigating and looking at the radar readings," he said Wednesday