SEPANG, March 9 ― After almost two days since MH370 loss contact with the air traffic control, Department of Civil Aviation director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman revealed tonight that the number of vessels involved in the search and rescue mission has increased to 74, while the search radius had also been expanded.
“We have in fact intensified our search in the area. Initially it was a radius of 20 nautical miles from Igari, we have increased it to 50 nautical miles.
“And we have a number of countries that assisted us in the search and rescue, which includes Vietnam, China, Singapore, Indonesia, USA, Thailand, Australia and the Phillippines,” he said.
Azharuddin, who is leading the search and rescue operation, said there are now 34 aircraft and 40 ships involved looking for the Boeing 777 plane carrying 239 passengers and crew members.
Chief of Armed Forces Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin said Australia will be sending an aircraft at midnight, and another in the morning.
Meanwhile, Thailand is sending an offshore patrol vessel (OPV) along with two aircraft and Indonesia has already deployed a maritime patrol aircraft and five vessels to join the search operation.
He added that one American aircraft was already in operation on the Straits of Malacca this evening.
Azharuddin said air search has been suspended for the night after operating for 12 hours since 7am today and the ships will continue the search throughout the night.
The 12-year-old aircraft was last heard from when it was travelling some 120 miles off the coast of Kota Baru at about 1.30am yesterday, 40 minutes after it left KL International Airport (KLIA).
Aviation experts have said that the jet's disappearance is among the rarest in history as the Boeing 777 fleet is known to be one of the safest and is popular among airlines for long-haul routes.
MH370's route from KL to Beijing is one of the shortest and would usually take five and a half hours.
Today, when asked about other leads that had surfaced in this case, Azharuddin stressed that finding the aircraft takes precedence as it would "help establish what exactly had happened".
“On the possibility of hijacking, we are not ruling out any possibility.
“However, it is important to state that our main concern is to focus our effort in finding the missing aircraft,” he said.
He reiterated that the last communication was during the transfer of responsibility of the aircraft from Malaysian airspace to Vietnamese airspace at the point of Igari.