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Malaysia not sure which way lost jet was headed

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — More than four days after a Malaysian jetliner went missing en route to Beijing, authorities acknowledged Wednesday they didn't know which direction the plane carrying 239 passengers was heading when it disappeared, vastly complicating efforts to find it.

Amid intensifying confusion and occasionally contradictory statements, the country's civil aviation authorities and the military said the plane may have turned back from its last known position between Malaysian and Vietnam, possibly as far as the Strait of Malacca, a busy shipping lane on the western side of Malaysia.

How it might have done this without being clearly detected remains a mystery, raising questions over whether its electrical systems, including transponders allowing it to be spotted by radar, were either knocked out or turned off. If it did manage to fly on, it would challenge earlier theories that the plane may have suffered a catastrophic incident, initially thought reasonable because it didn't send out any distress signals.

Authorities have not ruled out any possible cause, including mechanical failure, pilot error, sabotage or terrorism. Both the Boeing 777 and Malaysia Airlines have excellent safety records. Until wreckage or debris is found and examined, it will be very hard to say with any level of certainty what happened.

The search for the missing aircraft was begun from the spot it was last reported to be over the ocean between Malaysia and Vietnam. But Malaysian authorities have also said search operations were ongoing in the Strait of Malacca. Scores of planes and aircraft have been scouring waters in both locations.

The country's air force chief, Gen. Rodzali Daud, released a statement denying remarks attributed to him in a local media report saying that military radar had managed to track the aircraft turning back from its original course, crossing the country and making it to the Malacca strait. The Associated Press contacted a high-level military official, who confirmed the remarks.

Rodzali referred to a statement he said he made March 9 in which he said the air force has "not ruled out the possibility of an air turn back" and said search and rescue efforts had been expanded to the waters around Penang Island, in the northern section of the strait.

"There is a possibility of an air turn back. We are still investigating and looking at the radar readings," the country's civilian aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said Wednesday.

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Ground staff work on a Malaysia Airlines plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, Wednesday, March 12.

(AP)

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