Missing MH370: Maldives probe reports of possible MH370 sighting

Boeing 777 Malaysian Airlines

NEW DELHI - Authorities in the Maldives were probing reports Wednesday that islanders saw a "low-flying jumbo jet" on the day the missing Malaysia Airlines plane vanished.

While the islands' National Defence Force said that no trace of Flight MH370 had been picked up on radar, police and the civil aviation authority were investigating reported sightings on a remote island.

The investigations were sparked by a report by the Haveeru news website which said that several local residents had spotted a large plane flying over the remote southern island of Kuda Huvadhoo on March 8.

In a statement Wednesday, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) said that studies of military radar had yielded nothing so far.

"Based on the monitoring up to date, no indication of flight MH370 has been observed on any military radars in the country," it said.

The civilian radars at the Maldives airports had also "been analysed" but there was no "indication of the said flight," the statement added.

The Maldives police and civil aviation authority separately confirmed that a more detailed national inquiry was underway and they were hopeful of giving a progress report later in the day.

"We are looking at everything from radar reports and records of the air traffic control," Hussain Jaleel, chief executive of Maldives Civil Aviation Authority, told AFP.

Police have also said that they are "looking into the reports in the media saying that a low-flying airplane was sighted above Kuda Huvadhoo." Several alleged sightings of the Boeing 777, which vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur with 239 people on board, have proved to be false alarms and reports of debris at sea have also turned up nothing.

Haveeru said witnesses on Kuda Huvadhoo had seen a white aircraft with red stripes flying towards the southern tip of the Maldives.

"I've never seen a jet flying so low over our island before. We've seen seaplanes, but I'm sure that this was not one of those. I could even make out the doors on the plane clearly," the website quoted one witness as saying.

Haveeru journalist Farah Ahmed said several witnesses had given similar accounts.

"These people first heard a very loud noise from a plane flying unusually low and they came out to see it," Ahmed told AFP by phone from the Maldives capital Male, whose international airport daily handles dozens of wide-body jets bringing in thousands of tourists.

The hunt for the missing passenger jet now focuses on two vast search areas - a northern one spanning south and central Asia, and a southern corridor stretching deep into the southern Indian Ocean towards Australia.

The Maldives, located far from both arcs, is not among the 26 countries currently involved in the massive international search operation.

However neighbouring Sri Lanka on Tuesday granted Malaysia and three other countries involved in the hunt to use its air space to conduct search operations, following a request from diplomats.