NEW DELHI: Authorities in the Maldives were probing reports on Wednesday that islanders saw a “low-flying jumbo jet” on the day the missing Malaysia Airlines plane vanished.
While the islands’ National Defense Force said that no trace of Flight MH370 had been picked up on radar, police and the civil aviation authority were investigating reported sightings on a remote island.
The investigations were sparked by a report by the Haveeru news website which said that several local residents had spotted a large plane flying over the remote southern island of Kuda Huvadhoo on March 8.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) said that studies of military radar had yielded nothing so far.
“Based on the monitoring up to date, no indication of flight MH370 has been observed on any military radars in the country,” it said.
The civilian radars at the Maldives airports had also “been analyzed” but there was no “indication of the said flight,” the statement added.
The Maldives police and civil aviation authority separately confirmed that a more detailed national inquiry was underway and they were hopeful of giving a progress report later in the day.
“We are looking at everything from radar reports and records of the air traffic control,” Hussain Jaleel, chief executive of Maldives Civil Aviation Authority, said.
Police have also said that they are “looking into the reports in the media saying that a low-flying airplane was sighted above Kuda Huvadhoo.”
Several alleged sightings of the Boeing 777, which vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur with 239 people on board, have proved to be false alarms and reports of debris at sea have also turned up nothing.
Haveeru said witnesses on Kuda Huvadhoo had seen a white aircraft with red stripes flying towards the southern tip of the Maldives.
“I’ve never seen a jet flying so low over our island before. We’ve seen seaplanes, but I’m sure that this was not one of those. I could even make out the doors on the plane clearly,” the website quoted one witness as saying.
Haveeru journalist Farah Ahmed said several witnesses had given similar accounts.
“These people first heard a very loud noise from a plane flying unusually low and they came out to see it,” Ahmed told Agence France-Presse by phone from the Maldives capital Male, whose international airport daily handles dozens of wide-body jets bringing in thousands of tourists.
The hunt for the missing passenger jet now focuses on two vast search areas—a northern one spanning south and central Asia, and a southern corridor stretching deep into the southern Indian Ocean towards Australia.
The Maldives, located far from both arcs, is not among the 26 countries currently involved in the massive international search operation.
However, neighboring Sri Lanka on Tuesday granted Malaysia and three other countries involved in the hunt to use its air space to conduct search operations, following a request from diplomats.
In Thailand, reports said radar picked up an “unknown aircraft” minutes after flight MH370 last transmitted its location but officials failed to report the findings earlier as the plane was not considered a threat, the air force said on Wednesday.
The information emerged during checks of radar logs on Monday—nine days after the jet disappeared—after a request from the Malaysian government, according to Air Marshal Monthon Suchookorn.
An “unknown aircraft was detected at 00:28 [local time, 1:28 a.m. Malaysian time], six minutes after MH370 vanished” in the South China Sea, moving southwest towards Kuala Lumpur and the Strait of Malacca, he told Agence France-Presse.
That timing corresponds with the last transmission from the Boeing 777’s transponder at 1:21 a.m. Malaysian time, which relayed information about the plane’s altitude and location.
The timing of the plane being spotted travelling in the opposite direction from MH370’s intended flight path to Beijing also comes after the final voice communication from the jet, a seemingly relaxed “All right, good night” at 1:19 a.m.
Malaysia Airlines believes it was the co-pilot speaking from the cockpit.
Monthon said that although the signal was sporadic, the aircraft was later again picked up by Thai radar swinging north and disappearing over the Andaman Sea.
“It’s not confirmed that the aircraft is MH370,” he said, adding he was unable to give “exact times” of the later sightings.
The plane slipped off Malaysian civilian radar screens at 1:30 a.m. but continued to blip on its military radars until 2:15 a.m. before disappearing entirely.
The investigation into the fate of the Boeing 777 has focused on findings it was likely deliberately diverted from its flight path to Beijing, probably by someone in the cockpit with advanced aviation skills.
But the drip-feed of often conflicting information from Malaysia has sparked fury among desperate relatives and condemnation from Chinese authorities. Two-thirds of those on board were Chinese.
Twenty-six countries are now involved in the hunt which covers a vast arc of land and sea, in a northern corridor over south and central Asia, and a southern corridor stretching deep into the southern Indian Ocean towards Australia.