KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 (Xinhua) -- Multinational search operations to locate missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has been expanded to two areas with more countries joining in the mission, a Malaysian official said Wednesday.
The search areas for the missing jet carrying 239 people have been expanded to the Strait of Malacca and South China Sea, acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Bin Tun Hussein told a press conference.
Forty-two ships and 39 aircraft have been deployed so far in hunt for the Boeing 777-200 plane with the involvement of 12 countries, he added.
India, Japan and Brunei were the latest to join in a massive search mission which stretches into the fifth day.
An unidentified object was potted on military radar at 2:15 a.m. last Saturday in an area over the northern Malacca Strait about 200 miles (320 km) northwest of Penang island, Malaysian Air Force Chief Rodzali Daud told reporters here in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
"I am not saying it's flight MH370. We are still corroborating this. It was an unidentifiable plot," he said.
Malaysian authorities have earlier said the flight disappeared from civilian radar at around 1:20 a.m. Saturday Beijing time.
Earlier on Wednesday, the air force chief denied a report that military radar had tracked MH370 flying over the Strait of Malacca, although he did not rule out the possibility that the aircraft turned back before it vanished from radar screens.
Based on this possibility, multinational search operation to locate the missing Malaysia Airlines flight has been expanded to include two areas with more countries joining in the mission, which has entered the fifth day, officials said.
When asked by Xinhua about reports that dead bodies were found near Penang, he said he could not verify this.
With the rescue efforts stretching into the fifth day and no trace of the plane being found, anxiety about the situation of the people on board and discontent towards Malaysia's slow response mounted.
The most urgent task now is to speed up the search-and-rescue operations and investigation of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, said Guo Shaochun, head of a Chinese joint working group in charge of the incident Wednesday.
At a press conference held in the Chinese embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Guo said that the Chinese working group had meetings with officials from the Malaysia Airlines and the Emergency Operation Center.
"We called on them to listen carefully to the next of kin of the Chinese passengers and take swift actions to respond to the needs of the families," he said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered an all-out search and rescue effort on Saturday and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang also held emergency talks over the phone with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on the issue, Guo said.
As of late afternoon on Wednesday, eight Chinese vessels, including three warships, have arrived and are conducting operations in the waters, without finding debris or objects from the plane. More ships are expected to reach the waters.
So far a total of 18 family members of the Chinese passengers have come to Malaysia and the Chinese joint working group have met all of them, closely listening to their appeals, he said.
He believed that the working group will work together with the Chinese embassy here to provide all necessary assistance to the families of the Chinese passengers.
The Chinese Joint Working Group expressed appreciation for the efforts of the Malaysian authorities, which sent 25 ships and about 20 planes successively for the around-the-clock search and rescue operations for the Malaysia Airlines jet, Guo said.
The whereabouts of flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200 carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew, vanished early Saturday on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing after losing contact with air traffic control in waters between Malaysia and Vietnam.