Muslims at a mosque near Kuala Lumpur International Airport pray for the passengers of flight MH370 with Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak after regular Friday evening prayers, Mar. 14. (Photo/Xinhua)
Chinese forces on Friday continued the search mission and expanded the search area for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet that was carrying 239 passengers from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, but the whereabouts of the flight remains a mystery.
The search will be expanded to the east and west, with an intensive search in the eastern region and enhanced efforts in the southeast from Saturday, according to the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center.
China will also increase logistics support and arrange search rotations of different vessels, said He Jianzhong, director of the center.
Eight Chinese vessels have searched 70,078 square kilometers of the sea's surface as of 6pm Friday. No confirmed debris has been found as yet.
The Chinese patrol ship Haixun 31 left the waters around the Gulf of Thailand for the strait at 6pm Friday and headed for the Strait of Malacca to search for the missing flight, after searching over 60,000 sq km for more than 120 hours without finding any sign of the aircraft, according to the center.
Forces will continue to mobilize Chinese merchant ships from COSCO, China Shipping, Sinotrans and other companies, to search in designated areas in the Strait of Malacca, said He Jianzhong, the center chief and vice minister of transport.
On Friday morning, experts and officials from many of China's government departments as well as the navy held a meeting during which they analyzed new information and discussed plans to improve search and rescue work.
The MH370 flight went missing on its way to Beijing last Saturday morning shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur.
University of Science and Technology of China announced on Friday that researchers have detected a "seafloor event" near the waters between Malaysia and Vietnam, an area suspected to be linked with the missing flight.
The event occurred at about 2:55am local time on Saturday, about one and a half hours after the plane's last definitive sighting on civilian radar, according to a research group on seismology and physics of the earth's interior under the university.
The area, 116 km northeast from where the last contact with the Boeing plane was recorded, is a non-seismic region and the location of the event was identified based on records of two seismographs located in Malaysia, according to the group.
"The seafloor event could have been caused by the plane possibly plunging into the sea," the research group said.
If the data is proved to be linked to the missing flight, "the strength of the earthquake wave indicates the plunge was catastrophic," they added.
On the same day, foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei again urged Malaysia to take the lead in coordinating international search efforts for the missing flight.
"We hope Malaysia can enhance collection and analysis of information and help all forces search more efficiently," Hong said at a regular news briefing.
He said Malaysia had informed China of the latest information regarding the missing flight on Thursday through diplomatic channels and that the country has made tremendous search and rescue efforts in a candid manner.
While the whereabouts of the plane remains unknown, passengers' relatives and the Chinese public are very worried, he said.
China also urged Malaysia to give information on the search in the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea in a timely manner.
Hong said China appreciates India's participation in the search in the Andaman Sea.
Rumors have been spreading from multiple sources since search and rescue operations by multiple nations have failed to turn up any trace of the plane as yet.
Guo Shaochun, who heads China's joint working group in charge of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight incident, called for rationality over the issue of the missing jetliner on Friday.
Guo urged people to be rational and not believe in or spread rumors which may affect or impede investigations. "Whenever there is any progress, we will release it in time," he said.
Guo told the media in Kuala Lumpur that he had noticed there were some reports and speculation that the missing flight MH370 had been hijacked or under terrorist attack. "Before the investigation result is given out by the government agency of the country involved, we will not comment on this," said Guo, who is the deputy head of the Department of Consular Affairs with the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Although, since he made these comments, the BBC has cited the Malaysian prime minister as saying that the plane was deliberately diverted, "movements are consistent with the deliberate action of someone on the plane."
More than 80 ships and planes from 13 countries are now combing the waters on both sides of the Malaysian peninsula to locate the missing plane.
Malaysia on Friday confirmed that search areas for the missing flight have been widened to cover the Indian Ocean.
"Our priority remains finding the plane," said Malaysian defense minister Hishammuddin Hussein, in his capacity as acting transport minister, at a press conference, but he made no comment on US reports that the aircraft sent signals to a satellite for four hours after it went missing. He said the international team are currently working on verifying detailed information, but "we have nothing to confirm at this moment."
He added that, in accordance with standard procedure, the investigation team will not publicly release information until it has been properly verified and corroborated by the authorities.
Malaysia Airlines made a statement stating that they have nothing further to add to the information they have already provided despite on-going media speculation.
The airline reiterated it "will continue to give full support in cooperating with the search and rescue mission which is being coordinated by the Department of Civil Aviation Malaysia under the purview of the Ministry of Transport, Malaysia."
"Normally air traffic control receives data from the aircraft, but this time they did not. Not one single signal was received, which seems like a big mystery to me," he added.
Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak prayed for the passengers and crew on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in a mosque near Kuala, without making any comment on the futile search efforts for the missing plane involving aircraft and vessels from a dozen countries, until his statement to the BBC.