India tells Malaysia found no sign of missing jet

KUALA LUMPUR Sat Mar 22, 2014 3:21pm IST

A man writes a message on a board for passengers onboard missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 and their family members, at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur March 22, 2014. REUTERS/Samsul Said

A man writes a message on a board for passengers onboard missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 and their family members, at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur March 22, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Samsul Said

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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - India has told Malaysia it has found no evidence that a missing Malaysia Airlines jet with 239 people on board flew through its airspace, investigators said on Saturday.

The first notification that India and a number of other nations on a northern search corridor have come up empty-handed leaves the two-week-old investigation dependent on increasingly fragile hopes that an object spotted in the southern Indian Ocean comes from Flight MH370.

China and Pakistan are also among countries that have found no trace of the jet in their airspace, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.

Hishammuddin, who is running the investigation as acting transport minister, said earlier that after two days without confirmation of debris in the south, his "biggest concern" was that the search for the missing plane would have to revert to focusing once again on both vast search corridors running north and south.

The response from India is crucial because any radar data from that country could help identify whether the jet turned north or south after disappearing on March 8, but the issue is also sensitive because of the presence of military radar.

Sources familiar with the situation in both countries said India had formally told Malaysia that it had checked for any sign of the jet having touched its airspace and found nothing of significance, in response to Kuala Lumpur's diplomatic request.

The plane's last confirmed position, picked up by Malaysian military radar, was at 2:15 a.m. Malaysia time (1815 GMT March 7) about 200 nautical miles northwest of Malaysia's Penang island, roughly an hour after it diverted from its scheduled route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Officials close to the investigation said available information showed the plane may have passed close to Port Blair, the capital of India's Andaman and Nicobar Islands, 550 miles (885 km) further northwest along an established commercial flying route.

"It went very near Port Blair, that much we understand from information available," said a senior military official with knowledge of the investigation. "It had gone into Indian airspace and then it was not clear where the plane went after Port Blair."

An Indian Defence Ministry spokesman declined to comment on whether the aircraft had flown over Port Blair.

India has said it is possible that the military radars were switched off as it operates on an "as required" basis in that area.

A reluctance to share sensitive military radar data in a region where countries are wary of each other has hampered investigators' attempts to solve the baffling disappearance, officials have said.

(Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, Editing by Tim Hepher and Nick Macfie)

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