Confusion grows over missing Malaysian Airlines plane

Last Updated Mar 12, 2014 2:43 AM EDT

The mystery over the fate of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 became even more convoluted Wednesday when Malaysia's air force chief denied earlier remarks that the missing plane had reversed direction and reached the Strait of Malacca before vanishing.

The Boeing 777 was traveling from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people on board when air traffic controllers lost contact with it. Five days later, officials seem to have no idea where the plane may have ended up.

Malaysian air force chief Gen. Rodzali Daud was quoted as saying in local media report Tuesday that the military had radar data showing the plane had turned back from its original course, crossed the country and made it to the Strait of Malacca to the west of Malaysia. The Associated Press said it contacted a high-level military official, who confirmed the remarks.

But on Wednesday, Daud issued a statement denying that he had said any such thing.

"I wish to state that I did not make any such statements," he said.

Instead, he reiterated a comment from Sunday, when he said that the air force had "not ruled out the possibility" that the plane had turned back. But Daud said there was no evidence the jetliner had reached the Strait of Malacca.

Separately, a senior Malaysia Airlines executive told the Reuters news service Wednesday the carrier has "no reason to believe" anything the plane's crew did led to its disappearance.

Hugh Dunleavy, the commercial director of Malaysia Airlines, said in an interview, "We have no reason to believe that there was anything, any actions, internally by the crew that caused the disappearance of this aircraft."

Authorities began their search for the missing aircraft at the position it was last reported to be over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam. But they have also said search operations were ongoing in the Malacca strait.

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With no debris found yet, authorities have not ruled out any possible cause, including mechanical failure, pilot error, sabotage or terrorism.

Crews from several nations, including the United States, have been scouring the area for any sign of the missing plane. On Wednesday, Vietnam said it was scaling back its search in its waters.

China, however, said it would add two planes to the rescue mission and would broaden its search to include land areas.

Earlier, investigators had focused on two passengers who were traveling on stolen passports. But authorities later identified the two men as Iranians with no apparent ties to terrorism. They bought their tickets through an Iranian middleman and were both scheduled to fly on to Europe, where investigators believe they planned to seek asylum.

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