Eyewitness reports of a possible sighting of missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 flying near the Maldives have been officially discounted in a statement issued by the Maldives National Defence Force.
These reports were also confirmed by Malaysia's Transport Minister, Hishamuddin Hussein.
"Based on the monitoring up to date, no indication of Flight MH370 has been observed on any military radar’s in the country,” the statement said.
"Furthermore, the data of radars at Maldives airports have also been analysed and shows no indication of the said flight. The Maldives National Defence Force will continue to render any assistance required by the Maldives Police Service and international authorities on the search for the missing flight and related issues.”
Earlier reports had quoted several residents of Kudahuvadhoo in Dhaal atoll who saw a low-flying aircraft heading in a south-easterly direction on the morning of March 8, prompting speculation that it could have been Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.
The residents said the aircraft had markings similar to the missing Malaysian Airlines plane.
The Maldives news website Minivan News quoted five eyewitnesses who said they saw the aircraft. “It was about 6:30 in the morning, I heard a loud noise and went out to see what it was,” Adam Saeed, a teacher at Kudahuvadhoo school, told the Maldives news website Minivan News.
“I saw a flight flying very low and it had a red straight line in the middle of it. The flight was travelling north-west to south-east,” he said.
Another islander, who identified himself as Hamzath, told Minivan News that he had also seen a low-flying plane heading from north-west to south-east.
“People started talking about it when they realised that the flight that we saw had the same characteristics as of the missing plane,” Hamzath said.
‘‘We are still not saying it is the same plane, we just wanted to report it just in case.”
Another suggested that the reports had been exaggerated.
“A plane did fly near the island,” said the witness who was not named. “It wasn’t that big, as big as people say.”
“These days, people will be out fishing every morning. Around 30 people would always be there in the morning – but no one talked about it then. If it was that noticeable, loud and big, people would talk."
When asked about the possibility of a plane of this size landing on an isolated airstrip in the atolls, Maldives National Defence Force spokesman Major Hussain Ali said this was not possible.
“If you are asking are there any landing strips outside of the main commercial airports, the answer is no,” Major Hussain said.
The search for missing plane in the southern Indian Ocean has moved closer to Australia, with experts halving the area of water where the plane might be found.
And while efforts so far have failed to find signs of the jet, search co-ordinators at the Australian Maritime Safety Authority remain confident.
‘‘With a smaller area closer to Perth and more aircraft ... I hope we will do better tomorrow,’’ the authority’s head of emergency response John Young said on Wednesday.
Four military aircraft from Australia, New Zealand and the United States combed a 300,000 square kilometre area on Wednesday, 2300km southwest of Perth, where conditions were clear enough to spot marine life.
‘‘The search area has been significantly refined,’’ Young said.
The previous search zone of 600,000 square kilometres, 3200km from Perth, have been reduced following more detailed analysis from the US National Transportation Safety Board.
The new calculations are based on MH370’s fuel reserves.
Four ships have passed through the area with another due on Thursday, when up to five aircraft will again fly over.
Flight MH370 — carrying 239 people including six Australians and two New Zealanders — disappeared during a March 8 service bound for Beijing.
‘‘We still have grave fears for the safety of anyone who might have managed to escape the aircraft in the southern (Indian) Ocean,’’ Young said.
‘‘It remains a big area, it’s still very hard to search 300,000 square kilometres ... still almost a third bigger than the state of Victoria.’’
- Sydney Morning Herald