KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Confusion remains widespread in the Malaysian capital, as local media eagerly report every possible new lead and government quote in an effort to understand what happened to the Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 239 passengers that vanished Saturday.
On several occasions now, government officials have later made denials or given remarks that contradict earlier statements and information from colleagues in other departments, such as on whether some passengers booked the flight but did not board.
Police are processing several eyewitness reports from people on the coast of northeast Malaysia, along the expected flight path of the plane towards the South China Sea, who say they saw a low-flying plane and heard loud noise like a jet engine in the early hours of Saturday morning, the Star newspaper reported Wednesday.
In a Wednesday news conference, Malaysia's transport minister said the search has been expanded to an area that now covers 27,000 square nautical miles. "'Until we find the aircraft and black box, we are unable to address a lot of speculation out there," said Hishamuddin Hussein. Flanked by Malaysian government officials and the CEO of Malaysia Airlines, Hussein dismissed suggestions from journalists that the search-and-rescue operation has been plagued by inconsistency.
"It is only confusion if you want to see it as confusion," Hussein said.
On Tuesday, Malaysian officials backed away today from reported assertions that the missing Malaysian Airlines flight made it to the Strait of Malacca after turning away from its intended course.
The multinational effort is now the biggest search-and-rescue mission in recent times in the region, but locating plane wreckage at sea is "not a straightforward operation even with the most sophisticated technology," Datuk Capt Jaffar Lamri, former Malaysian Maritime Search and Rescue department head, told the same newspaper.
Parts of the South China Sea can be 250 meters deep, and choppy seas and underwater currents would worsen already difficult search operations, he said.
Even radar could struggle to find wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which may be small and lying on the seabed, said Jaffar, now CEO of marine consultancy Centre of Mari¬time Excellence.
Authorities have not ruled out any possible cause, including mechanical failure, pilot error, sabotage or terrorism. Both the Boeing 777 and Malaysia Airlines have excellent safety records. Until wreckage or debris is found and examined, it will be very hard to say what happened.
Amid intensifying confusion and occasionally contradictory statements, China said it would be expanding its search-and-rescue efforts Wednesday. Malaysia has asked for India's assistance in searching for the missing Boeing 777 jetliner to widen the search to an area near the Andaman Sea.
Contributing: Associated Press