Strait of Malacca Now Focus of Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Image: Strait of Malacca Now Focus of Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 A member of the Indonesian Air Force inspecting the millitery search operation for missing flight MH370 in the area of Malacca Strait.

Wednesday, 12 Mar 2014 06:57 AM

By Michael Mullins

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The Strait of Malacca has become the focus of the multinational search for the missing Boeing 777 Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that disappeared somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam early Saturday morning.

According to the Malaysian military, the missing airliner vanished from air traffic control screens after having last been seen changing course and flying westward over the Strait of Malacca.

"It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait," the military official, who has been briefed on investigations, told Reuters.

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One of the world's busiest shipping channels, the Strait of Malacca runs along Malaysia's west coast. At the time of its disappearance the missing plane was roughly midway between Malaysia's east coast town of Kota Bharu and the southern tip of Vietnam, flying at 35,000 feet, Reuters noted.

No distress signal was sent from the missing 777, which experts say suggests a sudden catastrophic failure or explosion. The plane was carrying 239 people aboard when it mysteriously disappeared, 227 of whom were passengers, 12 were crew.

Of the 227 passengers, three were Americans, with two reportedly being children. Among the other nationalities in the flight when it went missing were 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six Australians, five Indians, and four French. The remainder of the passengers on the flight were reportedly Chinese nationals.

Prior to refocusing their attention on the Strait of Malacca, the large-scale search operation had been scanning the South China Sea for any signs of debris left behind by a downed plane.

In addition to Malaysia's efforts, various other nations have joined the search effort including the United States, Vietnam, Philippines, Australia, Indonesia, China, and Thailand, which together have deployed a total of 34 aircraft and 40 ships to the area as of Sunday.

Another mystery surrounding the missing flight is the plane's transponder – a radio transmitter in the cockpit that emits an identifying signal providing the aircraft's location, which was either turned off or disabled prior to it disappearing from radar.

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On Tuesday, CIA Chief John Brennan told the Council on Foreign Relations that terrorism could not be ruled out at this point, ABC News reported.

"I think there’s a lot of speculation right now," Brennan said. "[There have been] some claims of responsibility that have not been confirmed or corroborated at all. We are looking at it very carefully. We, the CIA, are working with FBI and TSA and others. Our Malaysian counterparts are doing everything they can to try to put together the pieces here. But clearly this is still a mystery, which is very disturbing."

When asked specifically about whether terrorism might have played a role in the disappearance of the flight, Brennan responded, "I wouldn’t rule it out. Not at all."

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