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Sighting of plane in Maldives denied

REMOVED: Two relatives of Chinese passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 being escorted by security personnel and officials from the media accreditation room in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.


    Mar 20, 2014

    Sighting of plane in Maldives denied


    DISTRAUGHT relatives stormed into a conference room ahead of a press briefing yesterday, at which the Malaysian authorities denied reported sightings and leads regarding a missing Malaysia Airlines flight as the search extended into its 12th day.

    An emotional woman surnamed Xu wailed as she demanded to know the whereabouts of her son.

    "We can't wait, we just can't wait anymore," she cried out in Mandarin repeatedly, while dozens of journalists and camera crew crowded around her.

    Claiming to represent some 20 family members of the missing Chinese passengers on board MH370, Madam Xu said all of them were not satisfied with the Malaysian government's search and rescue capabilities.

    "We were told that they are searching, we are told the same thing every day," she said.

    Police intervened to stop the commotion shortly after and the Chinese family members were locked in a small media secretariat room next to the press briefing room, as the press conference proceeded.

    Few substantial details emerged from the unusually short conference that followed.

    Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister, Mr Hishammuddin Hussein, discounted reports that the plane was spotted above the Maldives.

    Several residents of Kudahuvadhoo, one of the more remote atolls in the island nation, had reported seeing a low-flying aircraft on the morning of March 8, when Flight MH370 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

    Mr Hishammuddin said that the reports had been investigated by police in the Maldives and were determined to be untrue.

    The minister did not confirm a report that Thai military radar had picked up what appeared to be Flight MH370 just minutes after it veered from its intended flight path.

    "I can confirm that we have received some radar data, but we are not at liberty to release information from other countries," he told reporters.

    With seemingly few clues "all efforts are now to reduce the area of concentration", Mr Hishammuddin said.

    An assessment by the United States National Transportation Safety Board said the search was focused on an area about the size of Italy, Bloomberg reported.

    That is about half the size of the zone planned on Tuesday, said Mr John Young, the agency's general manager of emergency response.

    Malaysia has underlined the importance of outside help, but Indonesia acknowledged it had only provided clearance for surveillance aircraft from Australia, Japan, the US and Malaysia to overfly its territory, while saying its own vessels await instructions from Kuala Lumpur.

    "These are basically spy planes, that's what they were designed for," said one source close to the investigation.

    Communications systems on the plane appeared to have been shut off deliberately, giving investigators reason to believe that it had been deliberately diverted.

    The apparent expert handling of the plane's course change has trained a harsh light on Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid.

    Malaysia's police chief, Mr Khalid Abu Bakar, said an examination of the flight simulator taken from Mr Zaharie's home showed its data log had been cleared on Feb 3.

    "The experts are looking at what are the logs that have been cleared," he told the news conference.