KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia faced a storm of criticism on Wednesday over contradictions and information gaps in the hunt for a missing airliner with 239 people on board, as the search zone veered dramatically far from the intended flight path.
Efforts to locate Malaysia Airlines flight 370, involving the navies and air forces of multiple nations, had focused on Vietnam's South China Sea coast, where the plane last made contact on Saturday on a journey from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
But Malaysian authorities said they were now expanding the search to the Andaman Sea north of Indonesia, hundreds of kilometres away, in a decision that added to a sense of a chaotic lack of coordination.
"We are not going to leave any chance. We have to look at every possibility," civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman told AFP, confirming the new search but not specifying whether it was based on any firm sign that the plane might be there.
The authorities had earlier expanded the zone to the Malacca straits off Malaysia's west coast, after citing radar data that they said indicated a "possibility" that the plane may have changed course from its intended flight path.
The shifts have fuelled perceptions that the Malaysian authorities are unable to handle a crisis on this scale, and have infuriated relatives of passengers who are gathered in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur as they endure an unbearable wait for news of their loved ones.
Malaysia's ambassador to China, Iskandar Sarudin, reportedly told relatives of some of the 153 Chinese passengers on board the plane that "now is not the time" to reveal what information the military may have on the route of the plane.
The Straits Times said he revealed that the last radio transmission from the cockpit before it switched from Malaysian to Vietnamese airspace was "Alright, good night".