Malaysia jet may have turned back but not detected: air force

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's air force chief said Wednesday authorities have not ruled out the possibility a missing airliner inexplicably changed course before losing contact, but denied reports the jet had been detected far from its planned flight path.

"The (air force) has not ruled out the possibility of an air turn-back on a reciprocal heading before the aircraft vanished from the radar," General Rodzali Daud said in a statement.

"This resulted in the search and rescue operations being widened to the vicinity of the waters (off the west coast of Malaysia)." But he denied a Malaysian media report on Tuesday that quoted him as saying that radar had last detected the plane over the Strait of Malacca off western Malaysia.

That location would have indicated that Malaysia Airlines flight 370 had banked far to the west of its intended flight path over the South China Sea.

Rodzali said he "did not make any such statements," and that Malaysian newspaper Berita Harian published "what is clearly an inaccurate and incorrect report." Authorities have said that the plane's last known point of contact with air-traffic control was off eastern Malaysia as it headed from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on an overnight flight early Saturday.

A massive search for the aircraft, which had 239 people aboard, initially focussed only on waters off eastern Malaysia, but has been expanded to the country's west coast.

That came after Rodzali said on the weekend that radar data indicated the "possibility" that the pilot had inexplicably changed course.

Authorities have given no details on the radar data cited in the turn-back scenario and are yet to announce findings of an investigation into the theory.