China has asked to send its own aviation experts to join the Malaysian officials hunting for a missing Malaysia Airlines flight amid growing concerns that the search, now in its seventh day, has been bungled.
Li Jiaxiang, director of China's Civil Aviation Administration, said the government had offered to send a team of experts to provide support and assistance. Officials made the offer in a meeting on Wednesday with Ong Ka Ting, a member of Malaysia's parliament and a special envoy.
China urged Malaysian officials to expand the scope of the search for Flight MH370 and to provide timely information. Most of the 239 people on board the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing are Chinese.
Ong said Malaysia had received numerous international offers of assistance but would prioritise the request, according to Xinhua.
News of the request came as Malaysian officials reported no progress in finding the Boeing 777, last heard from on Saturday morning en route to Beijing.
They expanded the search westwards towards India, saying the plane might have flown for several hours after its last contact with the ground. They have sought radar data from India and neighbouring countries.
They announced this while disputing a report by a US newspaper that the plane may have kept flying for four hours after its last reported contact. That scenario would make finding it vastly more difficult, and raises the possibility that searchers have been looking in the wrong place.
The Malaysian officials also said that a satellite image from a Chinese government agency was released by mistake and did not show debris from Flight MH370.
TheWall Street Journal's report said that Rolls-Royce, maker of the Boeing's engines, was still receiving engine data four hours after the time Malaysian officials said the plane was last detected.
Acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the government had contacted Boeing and Rolls-Royce and both said the last engine data was received at 1.07am, around 23 minutes before the plane's transponders, which identify it to commercial radar and nearby planes, stopped working. The last data, Hishammuddin said, indicated that "everything was normal".
Teams from Rolls-Royce and Boeing were in Kuala Lumpur and had been working with Malaysia Airlines and the investigation teams since Sunday, Hishammuddin said.
"As far as Rolls-Royce and Boeing are concerned, those reports are inaccurate," he said.
US-based Boeing has not responded to e-mails seeking comment. Rolls-Royce said yesterday that it would not comment on the investigation. "We continue to monitor the situation and offer our support to Malaysia Airlines," the British engine maker said in a statement.
However, asked by reporters if it were possible the plane had kept flying for hours longer than previously believed, Hishammuddin said: "Of course, we can't rule anything out. This is why we have extended the search. We are expanding our search into the Andaman Sea." The sea, part of the Indian Ocean, is northwest of the Malay Peninsula.
Hishammuddin said his government would be sharing more military data, for now disregarding national security concerns.
Malaysian authorities are under pressure after they released confusing, conflicting and incorrect information about the flight and those aboard, and on the time when the plane was last detected by radar.
The Royal Malaysian Air Force had said the last radar reading was marked at 2.40am. However, on Wednesday, officials said military radar detected an object at 2.15am over the Malacca Strait, but that they had not confirmed whether it was the missing plane.
Yesterday's search area was expanded as China's science agency released satellite images of what it said could be debris from flight MH370.
Both Malaysia and Vietnam sent search and rescue craft to the location and said they found no sign of debris.
"We contacted the Chinese embassy, who notified us that the images were released by mistake and did not show any debris from MH370," Hishammuddin said.
The multinational search and rescue operation has produced few results. Most of the 42 ships and 40 aircraft, from a dozen countries, have searched for signs of the plane in the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait.
Experts say a massive failure knocking out its electrical systems, while unlikely, could explain why its transponders were not working. Another possibility is that the pilot, or a passenger, probably one with some technical knowledge, switched off the transponders in the hope of flying undetected.
Kristine Kwok, Danny Lee, Stephen Chen in Beijing and Adrian Wan in Kuala Lumpur
Watch: Malaysia hires ‘witch doctor’ to locate flight MH370, reports said
WITCH DOCTOR FLIES IN THE FACE OF LOGIC
The witch doctor who tried to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight using a magic carpet, two coconuts and a wooden stick might have seen it coming.
Malaysian authorities vowed to banish or arrest the shaman if he again carried out a ritual at the country's main international airport. They were speaking yesterday after failing to catch Ibrahim Mat Zin, who held coconuts aloft and mimicked paddling before a host of reporters and photographers.
Videos of the scene went viral, drawing ridicule around the world.
The Selangor Islamic Religious Department said it would deploy seven officers at the airport to stop the shaman or any other bomoh performing further rituals because they contravened the teachings of Islam. Reports said Ibrahim made two appearances at the airport this week, allegedly at the invitation of one of the country's top leaders.
"Anyone going against [Islamic] sharia principles will be asked to disperse and if they refuse, we will arrest them," Zaifullah Jaafar Shidek, the department's Sepang district enforcement chief, said.
Chong Sin Woon, of the Malaysian Chinese Association, a political party, said the government must find out who invited the witch doctor to the airport. "It's an utter disgrace for our country. People from around the world are ridiculing us," he said. "We respect any well-intentioned wishing and religious acts, but it's very embarrassing to have magic carpet bomoh trying to find the plane using coconuts and a carpet in front of so many reporters from around the world."
After his appearances on Monday and Wednesday, Ibrahim said he would return to the airport yesterday to fulfil his part in the search operation. But he did not show up.
He said symbolic rituals would help "weaken the bad spirits so the rescuers can find the plane if it indeed had crashed". He claimed he could see the aircraft and believed it might have been hijacked by elves or suspended in mid-air, according to The Star.
His metaphysical power also told him that the plane would either be underwater or still flying in the air, but not on the ground.
Adrian Wan in Kuala Lumpur