KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia faced a storm of criticism on Wednesday over contradictions and information gaps in the hunt for a missing airliner with 239 people on board, as the search zone dramatically veered far from the intended flight path.
Efforts to locate Malaysia Airlines flight 370, involving the navies and air forces of multiple nations, had focused on Vietnam’s South China Sea coast where it last made contact Saturday on a journey from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
But Malaysian authorities said they were now expanding the search to the Andaman Sea north of Indonesia, hundreds of kilometers away, in a decision that added to a sense of a chaotic lack of coordination.
“We are not going to leave any chance. We have to look at every possibility,” said civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, confirming the new search but not specifying whether it was based on any firm sign the plane might be there.
Authorities had earlier expanded the zone to the Malacca Strait off Malaysia’s west coast after citing radar data they said indicated a “possibility” the plane may have changed course from its intended flight path.
The shifts have fuelled perceptions that Malaysian authorities are unable to handle a crisis on this scale, and infuriated relatives gathered in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur as they endure an unbearable wait for news of their loved ones.
Malaysia’s ambassador to China, Iskandar Sarudin, reportedly told relatives of some of the 153 Chinese passengers on board the plane that “now is not the time” to reveal what information the military may have on its route.
Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper also said he revealed that the last radio transmission from the cockpit before it switched from Malaysian to Vietnamese airspace was “Alright, good night.”
Analysts said there were burning questions over what information—if any—Malaysia has gleaned from both military and civilian radar, and the Boeing 777’s transponders, and over discounted reports it was later detected near Indonesia.
“It’s bad enough for a wide-body jet to go missing with 239 people on board, but then for the responsible country’s government and aviation agencies to handle the associated information with total incompetence is unforgivable,” said David Learmount from industry magazine Flightglobal.
“There are so many information sources that do not appear to have been used effectively in this case. As a result the families of the missing passengers and crew are being kept in the dark,” said Learmount, Flightglobal’s operations and safety editor.