Malaysia widens search for missing plane

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Children read messages and well wishes displayed for all involved with the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner MH370 on the walls of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Thursday, March 13, 2014 in Sepang, Malaysia. Planes sent Thursday to check the spot where Chinese satellite images showed possible debris from the missing Malaysian jetliner found nothing, Malaysia’s civil aviation chief said, deflating the latest lead in the six-day hunt. The hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has been punctuated by false leads since it disappeared with 239 people aboard about an hour after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Children read messages and well wishes displayed for all involved with the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner MH370 on the walls of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Thursday, March 13, 2014 in Sepang, Malaysia. Planes sent Thursday to check the spot where Chinese satellite images showed possible debris from the missing Malaysian jetliner found nothing, Malaysia’s civil aviation chief said, deflating the latest lead in the six-day hunt. The hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has been punctuated by false leads since it disappeared with 239 people aboard about an hour after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

A crew member of a Royal Malaysian Air Force CN-235 aircraft looks out the window during a search and rescue operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane over the Straits of Malacca, Thursday, March 13, 2014. Planes sent Thursday to check the spot where Chinese satellite images showed possible debris from the missing Malaysian jetliner found nothing, Malaysia’s civil aviation chief said, deflating the latest lead in the six-day hunt. The hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has been punctuated by false leads since it disappeared with 239 people aboard about an hour after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

A crew member of a Royal Malaysian Air Force CN-235 aircraft looks out the window during a search and rescue operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane over the Straits of Malacca, Thursday, March 13, 2014. Planes sent Thursday to check the spot where Chinese satellite images showed possible debris from the missing Malaysian jetliner found nothing, Malaysia’s civil aviation chief said, deflating the latest lead in the six-day hunt. The hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has been punctuated by false leads since it disappeared with 239 people aboard about an hour after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

A pilot of a Royal Malaysian Air Force CN-235 aircraft shows a map during a search and rescue operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane over the waters at Malacca straits, Malaysia, Thursday, March 13, 2014. Planes sent Thursday to check the spot where Chinese satellite images showed possible debris from the missing Malaysian jetliner found nothing, Malaysia’s civil aviation chief said, deflating the latest lead in the six-day hunt. The hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has been punctuated by false leads since it disappeared with 239 people aboard about an hour after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

Candles are lit next to messages as students express hope and solidarity for the passengers aboard the missing Malaysian Airlines plane Thursday, March 13, 2014 in Manila, Philippines. Planes sent Thursday to check the spot where Chinese satellite images showed possible debris from the missing Malaysian jetliner found nothing, Malaysia’s civil aviation chief said, deflating the latest lead in the six-day hunt. The hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has been punctuated by false leads since it disappeared with 239 people aboard about an hour after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysian authorities expanded their search for the missing jetliner into the Andaman Sea and beyond on Thursday after saying it could have flown for several hours after its last contact with the ground.

That scenario would make finding the jetliner a vastly more difficult task, and raises the possibility that searchers are currently looking in the wrong place for the Boeing 777 and its 229 passengers and crew.

In the latest in a series of false leads, planes were sent Thursday to search an area where Chinese satellite images published on a Chinese government website reportedly showed three suspected floating objects off the southern tip of Vietnam.

They saw only ocean.

“There is nothing. We went there, there is nothing,” said acting Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.

Compounding the frustration, he later said the Chinese Embassy had notified the government that the images were released by mistake and did not show any debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

The plane was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing early Saturday when it lost contact with ground controllers and civilian radar.

An international search effort is sweeping the South China Sea and also the Strait of Malacca because of unconfirmed military radar sightings that might indicate the plane changed course and headed west after its last contact.

The Wall Street Journal newspaper quoted U.S. investigators on Thursday as saying they suspected the plane remained in the air for about four hours after its last confirmed contact, citing data from the plane’s engines that are automatically transmitted to the ground as part of a routine maintenance program.

Hishammuddin said the government had contacted Boeing and Rolls Royce, the engine manufacturer, and both said the last engine data was received at 1:07 a.m., around 23 minutes before the plane lost contact.

But asked if it were possible that the plane kept flying for several hours, Hishammuddin said: “Of course, we can’t rule anything out. This is why we have extended the search.”

He said the search had been widened into the Andaman Sea and Malaysia was asking for radar data from neighboring countries. India plans to deploy air and

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