Land search for Malaysia Airlines plane begins as firm reveals aircraft had no 'issues with health'
Crew of Cathay Pacific Hong Kong-Kuala Lumpur bound flight reports large amount of debris was spotted off the coast of southeast Vietnam, says Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Department
Staff Reporters in Beijing and Agencies in Kuala Lumpur and Phu Quoc Island
The hunt for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was widened in scope significantly on Tuesday to include a major land search, as the company revealed the plane was given a clean bill of health just 10 days before it vanished.
After drawing a blank for more than three days as to the aircraft's whereabouts, including the possibility that the plane may have veered off its usual trajectory, the search teams "expanded the scope beyond the flight path".
The hunt will now encompass a larger swathe of the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, while the western coast of Malaysia and all the land between the two area is being scoured.
In a statement the airline said Tuesday that the B777-200 aircraft had undergone maintenance just 10 days before its disappearance, and no health issues had been found.
"The aircraft was delivered to Malaysia Airlines in 2002 and has since recorded 53,465.21 hours with a total of 7525 cycles," the statement said.
"The B777-200 aircraft that operated MH370 underwent maintenance 10 days before this particular flight on 6 March 2014.
"The maintenance was conducted at the KLIA hangar and there were no issues on the health of the aircraft."
It added: "All Malaysia Airlines aircraft are equipped with continuous data monitoring system called the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) which transmits data automatically. Nevertheless, there were no distress calls and no information was relayed."
The airline reiterated that the plane may have changed course before disappearing from radar at the position 065515 North (longitude) and 1033443 East (latitude), and may have made efforts to "turn back to Subang". No further explanation was given.
The company added: "We regret and empathise with the families and we will do whatever we can to ensure that all basic needs, comfort, psychological support are delivered. We are as anxious as the families to know the status of their loved ones."
Watch: Candle-lit vigil held in Kuala Lumpur for missing passengers
The expansion of the search area came after Beijing on Monday night called for swifter action by the Malaysian authorities amid increasing pressure from dozens of angry relatives of the some 150 Chinese passengers feared dead.
Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Department (CAD) said Monday it had received a report from the crew of a Cathay Pacific Hong Kong-Kuala Lumpur bound flight that a large amount of debris was spotted at about 3pm off the coast of Vung Tau, southeast Vietnam. The department said it had notified its counterparts in Vietnam, Malaysia and in Sanya city, Hainan province of the sighting.
“At Hong Kong time 15:10 on 10 Mar 2014, HKCAD received a report from Cathay Pacific Airways that pilots of CX725 while en-route from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur... had sighted 'large solid debris' over the surface of the sea at position 09.54.3N 107.25.0E within Ho Chi Minh Flight Information Region," the aviation department said.
The location of suspected debris does not match the path expected to have been taken by Malaysia Airlines flight 370, which should have flown directly over Ho Chi Minh City. The location supplied to the CAD was over the sea more than 125 kilometres south-east of the original flight path.
As dozens of ships and aircraft scoured the seas around the area where flight MH370 was last heard of, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said families of the 239 people on board - some two-thirds of whom were Chinese nationals - deserved an explanation as to what happened as soon as possible.
"This incident happened more than two days ago, and we hope that the Malaysians can fully understand the urgency of China, especially of the family members, and can step up the speed of the investigation and increase efforts on search and rescue," Qin told reporters at a daily news briefing.
A friend of one passenger, speaking to reporters after a meeting with China’s civil aviation authority and government officials in Beijing, said fearful families of the missing were growing impatient.
"The family members are really not happy. They feel like they have waited far too long," the man, surnamed Zhou, said.
"The main thing they are interested in is whether there is anyone left alive or not."
A statement from Malaysia Airlines on Monday evening said the company was "actively co-operating with the search and rescue authorities co-ordinated by the Department of Civil Aviation Malaysia (DCA) and the Ministry of Transport".
It said search and rescue teams from Australia, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, New Zealand and the United States of America had come forward to assist and that it was "very grateful" for their efforts.
Earlier on Monday a high-ranking Malaysian official said all possibilites were still being investigated, including hijack.
Director-general of Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, told a press conference that "every aspect of what could [have] happened on this ill-fated aircraft" was being probed.
He also said that despite reports that debris had been spotted by a Vietnamese search crew, the country's authorities had not been able to confirm any positive sighting.
“Unfortunately ladies and gentleman, we have not found anything that appears to be objects from the aircraft," he said.
“There are various reports or sightings of objects that... agencies have reported with the various media. There was a report Vietnamese located an unidentified piece of the aircraft…it may have been a door of the aircraft.
“To inform all of you, that report was not verified officially by the Vietnamese authorities to date.”
Last night Interpol announced that Malaysia's international air security standards were being probed, after it said two stolen passports used by passengers on board the flight were in its database and could have been checked by officials in Kuala Lumpur.
The disclosure came as material suspected of belonging to the missing airliner was found by a Vietnamese Navy plane more than 40 hours after an international search was launched for the lost Boeing 777 aircraft and its 239 passengers and crew.
Oil slicks had earlier been spotted in the sea south of Vietnam by the country's air force.
China's Ministry of Public Security said it was sending a task force to Malaysia to help investigate after police revealed that a forged mainland passport was used by one of three passengers confirmed to be travelling on false documents.
A fourth case is being examined by officials investigating the disappearance of the plane as a possible terror attack.
"While it is too soon to speculate about any connection between these stolen passports and the missing plane, it is clearly of great concern that any passenger was able to board an international flight using a stolen passport listed in Interpol's databases," the agency's secretary general, Ronald Noble, said in a statement issued by its headquarters in Lyons, France.
"For years Interpol has asked why should countries wait for a tragedy to put prudent security measures in place at borders and boarding gates."
In a fresh statement on Monday morning Malaysia Airlines said eight countries had offered search and rescue assistance, while families of those missing continued to gather in Kuala Lumpur.
"Malaysia Airlines is working closely with the government of China to expedite the issuance of passports for the families as well as with the immigration of Malaysia for their visas into Malaysia," the statement said.
"When the aircraft is located, a Response Co-ordination Centre (RCC) will be activated within the vicinity to support the needs of the families."
Earlier, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the country's airport security protocols were being reviewed.
The two men who boarded the plane with passports stolen from Italian Luigi Maraldi and Austrian Christian Kozel were booked to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam via Beijing before flying to Copenhagen and Frankfurt separately.
Both flights had been booked with China Southern Airlines, which operates some flights jointly with other companies including Malaysia Airlines, and their ticket numbers were consecutive.
It appeared the tickets were purchased at the same time in Thai baht at identical prices, according to China's official e-ticket verification system Travelsky.
The passenger travelling on the forged Chinese passport was listed on the airline manifest as Zhao Qiwei, but Fujian police said the true holder of the document was still in the province and had never travelled abroad, Xinhua reported.
The mystery surrounding the airliner's last minutes deepened after Malaysian military officials said yesterday that the plane may have turned back from its scheduled route just before contact with it was lost.
Rodzali Daud, the Royal Malaysian Air Force chief, told reporters at a news conference that radar recordings had revealed the possibility that the aircraft had turned back from its scheduled flight path.
But Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the Boeing 777's systems would have set off alarm bells.
"When there is an air turn-back the pilot would be unable to proceed as planned," he said, adding authorities were "quite puzzled" over the situation.
Rolls-Royce, which made the plane's engines, told the Post it was sending investigators all information it had from its systems which monitor in-flight engine performance.
At least 34 aircraft and 40 ships have been deployed to the area by Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, China and the United States. Vietnam, the Philippines and Australia have also deployed vessels not included in these numbers.
A Chinese maritime vessel, "China Coast Guard 3411", arrived on the scene early yesterday afternoon.
US officials from Boeing, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are also headed to Vietnam. The FBI is sending agents and technical experts.
Watch: Vietnam spots possible wreckage from Malaysian plane
Associated Press, Reuters