Search for Malaysia Airlines Jet Bolstered Off Australian Coast

PHOTO: This photo taken in April, 2013, shows a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER at Narita Airport in Narita, near Tokyo. PlayKyodo News/AP Photo
WATCH Zeroing in on the Missing Malaysia Airlines Plane

The search for the missing Malaysian Airlines jet is showing a new emphasis on areas near Australia with more search planes scouring the region.

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Australia is sending two P-3 Orion and one C-130 aircraft to aid in the search effort and a U.S. P-8 aircraft is traveling to Perth, Australia, to help in the hunt.

Australia is coordinating the search in the southern Indian Ocean. The decision for Australia to take the lead was suggested by Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak.

“In assuming overall responsibility for coordinating the search effort in the southern Indian Ocean, Australia is preparing to work with assets from a number of other countries, including surveillance aircraft from New Zealand and the United States,” Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in a statement.

PHOTO: Malaysia officials released maps showing the northern and southern corridors where search crews are looking for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, March 17, 2014.Malaysia Government Handout
Malaysia officials released maps showing the northern and southern corridors where search crews are looking for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, March 17, 2014.

The hunt for the plane that disappeared more than a week ago with 239 people aboard has defied efforts by more than two dozen countries to unravel the mystery or find any evidence of the Boeing 777 jetliner.

The effort has been compounded by confusing, at times seemingly contradictory statements by Malaysian authorities who are in charge of the search since the plane disappeared shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing.

A news conference in Malaysia this morning regarding the timing and sequence of events in the cockpit included two officials giving seemingly contradictory statements about a critical point: When the plane’s data transmission system known as ACARS was shut down.

Malalysia's transport minister said Sunday and again today that they know ACARS was turned off before someone in the cockpit spoke with Malaysia air traffic controllers as the plane left Malaysian air space. "All right, good night," the person said, giving no indication that anything was wrong with the plane or in the cockpit. Those words were spoken minutes before the plane's transponder was turned off.

Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said today that the plane’s co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, was likely the person who answered the air traffic controller.

Yahya also said they don't know when exactly the ACARS system stopped. He said there is a window of 30 minutes between the final ACARS transmission and an expected transmission 30 minutes later that never came.

After ACARS and the transponder stopped transmitting, the plane continued to ping satellites for up to seven hours. Those pings identified the plane’s possible last location along corridors to the north or south.

The southern corridor would have taken the plane over open water to a point off Australia's western coast where it would have run out of fuel and crashed into the Indian Ocean.

Other countries are searching the northern route, but that area includes nations whose radar would have likely picked up a sign of the plane, and there have been no reports of the plane being spotted on radar.

The investigation has also focused on the plane's pilots and Malaysian authorities said they are looking at a YouTube video that appears to show the plane's pilot Capt. Zahari Ahmad Shah, 53, going through airport security. The video has not been authenticated and it's not clear if it is on the day flight MH370 vanished.

Investigators combed through the captain's home over the weekend confiscating two laptops and his home flight simulator. He had once proudly posted a video of the simulator on YouTube.

A close friend of the captain, Peter Chong, told ABC News that he was a "tech geek" who simply loved to fly.

"To be able to buy things off the counter and set up his own flight simulator is something he's proud of," Chong said.

He was a member of Malaysia's opposition political party and the party's leader Anwar Ibrahim had been recently jailed. Although Zahari Shah was photographed wearing a T-shirt that stated, "Democracy is dead," Chong said his friend is not an extremist.

Another friend, Chris Nissen, 57, from Oregon, said he has known the captain for 18 years.

"I can't imagine him doing anything to hurt himself, passengers, the property... It really hurts when people would even suggest something like that," Nissen said.

During today’s press conference, Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein refuted reports that Malaysian authorities had not been working directly with the FBI.

“Not true … I’ve been working with the FBI from day one,” he said.

The search operation for the plane now involves 26 countries, covering land in 11 countries as well as deep and remote oceans.