Malaysia Airlines MH370: Authorities deny chaos in plane search effort

Malaysia Airlines MH370: Authorities deny chaos in plane search effort

Malaysia Airlines MH370: Authorities deny chaos in plane search effort

Updated 13 March 2014, 0:00 AEDT

Malaysian authorities have denied their efforts to find a missing passenger jet are mired in chaos, as they justified their decision to enlarge the search area to hundreds of kilometres from the plane's flight path.

At a combative news conference on the fifth day of the vast hunt, transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said officials would "never give up hope" of finding Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and its 239 passengers and crew.

The hunt, involving 42 ships and 39 aircraft from several nations, had focused on Vietnam's South China Sea coast where the plane last made contact on Saturday.

But the search has been expanded to the Andaman Sea north of Indonesia, hundreds of kilometres away, fuelling allegations that the response is in disarray and lacking coordination.

Overall, the search areas cover 27,000 square nautical miles.

Officials have enraged passengers' relatives and sparked international ridicule for a series of contradictory and vague statements regarding the plane's possible fate and circumstances surrounding its disappearance.

"We are still doing search-and-rescue operations and we still have hope," civil aviation director Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said.

"Chances of survival depend also on a lot of criteria because we don't know where the aircraft is."

Asked whether the search had now collapsed into confusion, Mr Hishammuddin said: "I don't think so. It's far from it. It's only confusion if you want it to be seen as confusion".

"I think it's not a matter of chaos. There are a lot of speculations that we have answered in the last few days," he said.

Air force chief Rodzali Daud said authorities were investigating an unidentified flying object about 320 kilometres north-west of the Malaysian state of Penang around the time the plane vanished early Saturday.

That is hundreds of kilometres to the west of the plane's planned flight path between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing.

Authorities have said radar data records indicated the "possibility" that the plane may have attempted to "turn back" to Kuala Lumpur shortly before its disappearance, but have not revealed the specifics of the data.

"The last plot happened at 2:15am (local time) ... 200 miles northwest of Penang. We are corroborating this. We are not saying this is MH370. It's an unidentified plot," General Rodzali said.

But the officials admitted they still did not know where the plane was despite repeatedly expanding the search area.

Family of missing Australians hoping for a miracle

About two-thirds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew now presumed to have died aboard the plane were Chinese.

Other nationalities included 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, five Indians, four French and three Americans.

The missing Australians are Brisbane couple Rod and Mary Burrows, Springfield Lakes couple Robert and Catherine Lawton and Sydney couple Gu Naijun and Li Yuan.

Mr Burrows's mother Irene Burrows says her heart is aching.

"I spoke to him a couple of days beforehand and he was very excited about going. It's not their first overseas trip but it was planned for a long time," she said.

She says family members will gather in Brisbane this morning.

"[We are] just waiting for some sort of news. If they've found the wreckage or if they can tell us ... how can a plane just disappear?"

Perth-based New Zealand man Paul Weeks was also on the flight, en route to Mongolia to begin a fly-in, fly-out role with mining contractor Transwest.

China has deployed 10 satellites using high-resolution earth imaging capabilities, visible light imaging and other technologies to "support and assist in the search and rescue operations".

Investigators confirm two stolen passport holders are Iranian

The fact that at least two passengers on board had used stolen passports has raised suspicions of foul play, but Interpol says the pair have no link to any terrorist organisations.

Interpol says the Iranian nationals, aged 18 and 29, swapped their passports in Kuala Lumpur and used stolen Italian and Austrian passports to board flight MH370.

Malaysian officials say one of the men, 18-year-old Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, was hoping to migrate to Germany. They say his mother was waiting to meet him in Frankfurt.

The other Iranian has been identified as Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza.

"The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it is not a terrorist incident," Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble said.

However, Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan said intelligence officials could not rule out terrorism as a factor.

"You cannot discount any theory," he said.

Police in Thailand, where the Italian and Austrian passports were stolen and the tickets used by the two men were booked, said they did not think the men were linked to the disappearance of the plane.

"We haven't ruled it out, but the weight of evidence we're getting swings against the idea that these men are or were involved in terrorism," Pattaya police chief Supachai Puikaewcome said.

ABC/wires