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Missing plane may have turned back

KUALA LUMPUR -- Malaysia on Sunday said a missing airliner carrying 239 people may have inexplicably turned back as authorities launched a terror probe into the plane's sudden disappearance, investigating suspect passengers who boarded with stolen passports.

The United States sent the FBI to investigate after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing vanished from radar early Saturday somewhere at sea between Malaysia and Vietnam, but stressed there was no evidence of terrorism yet.

Indications that the plane may have deviated from its route only compounded the anxiety of relatives, many of them Chinese, desperate for news of their loved ones.

“There is a distinct possibility the airplane did a turn-back, deviating from the course,” said Malaysia's air force chief, General Rodzali Daud, citing radar data.

But Malaysia Airlines (MAS) chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the Boeing 777's systems would have set off alarm bells.

“When there is an air turn-back the pilot would be unable to proceed as planned,” he said, adding authorities were “quite puzzled” over the situation.

Malaysian authorities have expanded their search for wreckage to the country's west coast after initially concentrating to the east in the South China Sea.

A total of 40 ships and 22 aircraft from an array of countries including Malaysia's neighbors, China and the U.S. are now involved in the hunt across the two areas, officials said, with two Australian surveillance aircraft also due to join the search.

After it emerged that two people boarded the flight with stolen European passports, Malaysia's transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he was looking at four suspect passengers in all.

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Family members comfort Chrisman Siregar, left, and his wife Herlina Panjaitan, the parents of Firman Siregar, one of the Indonesian citizens registered on the manifest as having boarded Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that went missing over the South China Sea, at their residence in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia on Sunday. (AP)



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