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March 14, 2014

Malaysian jet mystery still unsolved

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — An oil slick on the sea. A purported wrong turn to the west seen on military radar. Questionable satellite photos. Passengers boarding with stolen passports.

After six days, what seemed like potential clues to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 have all led nowhere.

“This situation is unprecedented. MH370 went completely silent over the open ocean,” acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said. “This is a crisis situation. It is a very complex operation, and it is not obviously easy. We are devoting all our energies to the task at hand.”

On Thursday, Malaysian authorities expanded their search westward toward India, saying the aircraft with 239 people aboard may have flown for several hours after its last contact with the ground shortly after takeoff early Saturday from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.

A U.S. official on Thursday said the plane was sending signals to a satellite for four hours after the aircraft went missing. The jet had enough fuel to reach deep into the Indian Ocean.

That led searchers to believe the plane could have flown more than 1,000 miles beyond its last confirmed sighting on radar, the official said.

The official said the plane wasn’t transmitting data to the satellite but sending out a signal to establish contact. Boeing offers a satellite service that can receive a stream of data during flight on how the aircraft is functioning.

An official said Malaysia Airlines didn’t subscribe to that service, but the system was automatically pinging the satellite anyway.

Asked if it were possible that the plane kept flying for several hours, 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.”

He said Malaysia was asking for radar data from India and other neighboring countries to see if they can trace it flying northwest. India said its navy, air force and coast guard will search for the plane in the south Andaman Sea.

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