Maldives debunks reports of MH370 sightings

KUALA LUMPUR - There remains no sign of the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner which disappeared two weeks ago, as the Maldives authorities debunked reports that an aircraft was seen flying low in its airspace on the day Flight MH370 vanished.

"Regarding reports that the plane was sighted in the Maldives, I can confirm that the Malaysian Chief of the Defence Force has contacted his counterpart in the Maldives, who has confirmed that these reports are not true," Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Some excitement was stirred earlier when a Maldives news website quoted five witnesses who said they had seen the aircraft early in the morning as it flew overhead at an unusually low height.

Part of the excitement was because senior pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah had reportedly practised landing in the Maldives on his home flight simulator, examined by police since last Saturday.

Malaysia's police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said they found that data logs on three flight simulator games - labelled X, 9 and X Flight 10 - had been deleted on Feb 3.

On Wednesday, Captain Zaharie's daughter Aishah was quoted as saying that the speculation about her 53-year-old father, an aviation buff, was "torturing the family".

Police said the family had been very cooperative in the probe.

Investigators are trying to narrow the search area, which stretches 2.24 million sq nautical miles from Central Asia to the southern Indian Ocean.

The southern corridor that stretches from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean is getting special focus because it covers a vast open ocean area, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin said.

Still, he added, both corridors were deemed equally important.

The northern corridor is largely overland, stretching from northern Thailand to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

Indonesia and Australia are leading the search in the southern corridor, while Malaysia is coordinating the massive operation that involves 26 countries.

Mr Hishammuddin said the immediate task ahead was to narrow down the search areas through further satellite information and radar data from neighbouring countries, and by increasing the number of ships and planes searching as well as the number of technical experts studying the data.

Malaysia has received radar data from some of these countries, he said, declining to disclose more.

The mission is still classified as "search and rescue" despite 12 days having passed since the Boeing 777-200ER jet vanished after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.

Investigations showed that the plane, with 239 on board, had turned back over Peninsular Malaysia before turning north-west, and vanishing off radar.

Six satellite communications after that, with the last taking place almost seven hours after the plane vanished from radar, suggested the aircraft could be somewhere along the current search areas.

Mr Hishammuddin also said background checks on almost all the 227 passengers have turned up nothing of significance. All the countries, except for Russia and Ukraine, have furnished information about their citizens on board.

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