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Malaysian Jet Hunt Shifts North as Najib Visits Australia

Malaysian PM Najib Razak & Australian PM Tony Abbott
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott look on as Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston commences his briefing about the search mission for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at RAAF base Pearce in Perth on April 3, 2014. Photographer: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Investigators searching for the missing Malaysian plane are combing a new location in the southern Indian Ocean today as Prime Minister Najib Razak toured an Australian air base coordinating the effort.

The operation today will involve up to eight planes and nine ships, said retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who heads Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority determined a search area of about 223,000 square kilometers (86,000 square miles), 1,680 kilometers west north-west of Perth, the JACC said in an e-mail.

“The search area is continually adjusted,” Houston said at Base Pearce, the facility near Perth that was visited by Najib and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott. It’s “one of the most complex operations of this nature that the world has seen,” Houston said.

Weather in the area is expected to be fair, with visibility of about 10 kilometers, and the southern parts may have a few showers, the JACC said.

British nuclear submarine HMS Tireless and survey ship HMS Echo yesterday joined the hunt for the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. jet, which disappeared 27 days ago. The Boeing Co. 777-200ER aircraft vanished from civilian radar on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew on board while on a flight to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.

Possible Paths

Investigators relied on limited contact between Flight 370 and an Inmarsat Plc satellite to draw up possible paths the plane took. Planes and ships from Australia, Malaysia, China, the U.S., South Korea, New Zealand and Japan are taking part in the hunt, the longest period in modern passenger-airline history between a disappearance and initial findings of debris.

“We are here today, but our thoughts are thousands of kilometers away,” Najib said at a joint press conference with Abbott in Perth. “In the cities and countries around the world, where families of those on board wait desperately for news. And in the vastness of the Indian Ocean, where MH370 awaits.”

The HMS Tireless, a Trafalgar-class attack submarine launched in 1984, has a top speed of 32 knots. Trafalgar-class submarines have been modified for other roles such as surveillance and reconnaissance, according to the British navy’s website.

Limited Contact

The HMS Echo, launched in 2002, can collect military hydrographic and oceanographic data and carries a detachment of marines, according to the website.

“The best brains in the world are working on this, and every day, working on the basis of just small pieces of information,” Abbott said at the press conference in Perth. “We are putting the jigsaw together and every day we have a higher degree of confidence that we know more about what happened to this ill-fated flight.”

The previous mark for the longest search was set when Adam Air Flight 574 went missing off the coast of Indonesia’s South Sulawesi seven years ago. The Boeing 737-400, operated by PT Adam Skyconnection Airlines, lost contact with air traffic control Jan. 1, 2007. Wreckage wasn’t found until the 10th day of the search.

Police Investigation

The cause of the disappearance of the plane might never be known, Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said at a briefing in Kuala Lumpur, according to a recording provided by a member of his communications staff. Police have interviewed more than 170 people, including relatives and acquaintances of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members of Flight 370, Khalid said.

“The investigation may go on and on and on,” Khalid said. “At the end of the investigation, we may not even know what is the real cause.”

Najib has faced public scorn from China, whose nationals made up about two-thirds of the travelers on Flight 370, over his government’s handling of the case. Senior Malaysian officials have issued conflicting statements about what is known about the plane and the state of the inquiry, contributing to the criticism abroad.

China’s ambassador to Malaysia, Huang Huikang, told reporters yesterday in Kuala Lumpur that the country has never said it was angry over the current status of the investigation or expressed dissatisfaction on the progress of the search. Still, there are areas of improvement in handling “this unprecedented incident,” he said.

“We noticed the coordination between relevant departments within Malaysia is not too good, the information released wasn’t consistent,” Huang said. “This needs to be improved in the future. But honestly, in the face of this rare incident and major disaster, no one can do this perfectly.”

“We have nothing to hide,” Paul Low, a minister in the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Department in charge of fighting graft, said earlier. “Why would we want to cover up and have an international inquiry at the same time?”

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