As the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 continued off the coast of Australia yesterday, the airline announced that one of its planes was forced to make an emergency landing after one of its tires burst on takeoff.
All 159 passengers and seven crew members arrived safely back in Kuala Lumpur at about 2am, about four hours after the plane took from the Malaysian capital headed to Bangalore, India.
The incident created more drama for an airline already under immense pressure from the public and the families of those missing from Flight MH370, who are demanding to know the fate of jet more than six weeks after it departed from the same airport as yesterday’s plane.
A robotic submarine yesterday continued scouring a desolate patch of seafloor in the Indian Ocean for any trace of the missing plane. The unmanned sub has spent nearly a week searching for the plane’s data recorders and covered about two-thirds of its focused search area, but it has yet to find any clues that could shed light on the case.
The US Navy’s Bluefin 21 has made eight trips below the surface to scan the seabed far off the coast of western Australia, journeying beyond its recommended depth of 4.5km. Its search area forms a 10km radius around the location of an underwater signal that was believed to have come from the recorders.
The Joint Agency Coordination Center organizing the search said the sonar scan of the seafloor in the area was expected to be completed sometime this week.
Malaysian Minister of Defense Hishammuddin Hussein stressed the importance of the submarine missions, but said that if no debris is recovered, the search’s scope may be broadened or other assets used.
The search for debris on the ocean surface also continued yesterday, with up to 10 military aircraft and 11 ships combing a 49,500km2 area, about 1,700km northwest of Perth, the center said.
The intense global scrutiny the flight’s disappearance has brought upon Malaysia’s government has tossed a wild card into its controversial efforts to send opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim back to jail.
Hours before the plane vanished on March 8, a court overturned Anwar’s 2012 acquittal on sodomy charges he says are false and part of a government bid to ruin him.
Sentenced to five years in jail, but free on appeal, Anwar would be expelled from parliament if the conviction holds, dealing a severe blow for a fractious opposition that has enjoyed unprecedented success by uniting around his star power.
However, Anwar said the negative attention over MH370 may force the government to think twice.
“[MH370] certainly will have a bearing,” Anwar, 66, said when asked whether concern over international reaction to his jailing could make his political foes pause. “The entire radar is on Malaysia — that it is opaque, semi-authoritarian, [has] no transparency, no accountability.”
Unaccustomed to answering for itself at home, Kuala Lumpur has faced a barrage of international criticism for the unexplained loss of the plane with 239 people aboard.
Malaysia’s opposition says the saga has exposed institutional decay and incompetence in a government dominated since 1957 by the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which is widely accused of cronyism and corruption.
A former Malaysian deputy prime minister with UMNO, Anwar has cultivated strong friendships in Washington and the US Department of State has questioned the March 7 ruling against him.