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Search for lost jet expands amid signs it flew on

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Officer Lang Van Ngan of the Vietnam Air Force looks out the window onboard a flying AN-26 Soviet made aircraft during a search operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 plane over the southern sea between Vietnam and Malaysia Friday, March 14, 2014. Vietnam says it has downgraded but not stopped its search for the missing jetliner in the South China Sea and has been asked by Malaysian authorities to consider sending planes and ships to the Strait of Malacca. (AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen)

Officer Lang Van Ngan of the Vietnam Air Force looks out the window onboard a flying AN-26 Soviet made aircraft during a search operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 plane over the southern sea between Vietnam and Malaysia Friday, March 14, 2014. Vietnam says it has downgraded but not stopped its search for the missing jetliner in the South China Sea and has been asked by Malaysian authorities to consider sending planes and ships to the Strait of Malacca. (AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen)

A message card reading “MH370 comes back safely” is tied up for passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, outside a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, March 14, 2014. A U.S. official said that the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 pinged a satellite for four hours after it went missing, indicating that it may have stayed in the air long after its last contact with the ground. Malaysian authorities are widening their search westward, toward India, as a result. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

Muslim men arrive at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport Mosque for afternoon prayers where a special prayer session will be offered for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, Friday, March 14, 2014 in Sepang, Malaysia. Vietnam says it has downgraded but not stopped its search for the missing jetliner in the South China Sea and has been asked by Malaysian authorities to consider sending planes and ships to the Strait of Malacca. The statement Friday is a sign that the focus of the search effort is switching to the west of Malaysia, to the strait and further west into the Indian Ocean. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, center, arrives at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport Mosque for Friday prayers where a special prayer was offered for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, Friday, March 14, 2014 in Sepang, Malaysia. Vietnam says it has downgraded but not stopped its search for the missing jetliner in the South China Sea and has been asked by Malaysian authorities to consider sending planes and ships to the Strait of Malacca. The statement Friday is a sign that the focus of the search effort is switching to the west of Malaysia, to the strait and further west into the Indian Ocean. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

A woman walks past message cards tied up for passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, outside a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, March 14, 2014. A U.S. official said that the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 pinged a satellite for four hours after it went missing, indicating that it may have stayed in the air long after its last contact with the ground. Malaysian authorities are widening their search westward, toward India, as a result. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — The international search for the missing Malaysian jetliner expanded further into the Indian Ocean on Friday amid signs the aircraft may have flown on for hours after its last contact with air-traffic control nearly a week ago.

A U.S. official told The Associated Press that the Malaysia Airlines plane sent signals to a satellite for four hours after the aircraft went missing early last Saturday, raising the possibility the jet carrying 239 people could have flown far from the current search areas. It also increased speculation that whatever happened to the plane was a deliberate act.

Malaysia’s Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the search was expanding further afield, not because of any new information about the plane’s flight, but because the aircraft has not yet been found.

Malaysian officials declined to discuss when —or even whether — they had information about signals to satellites, and that they would release details only when verified. Hishammuddin said Malaysian investigators have worked with U.S. colleagues in Kuala Lumpur since Sunday.

“I hope within a couple of days to have something conclusive,” he told a press conference.

If the plane had disintegrated during flight or had suffered some other catastrophic failure, all signals — the pings to the satellite, the data messages and the transponder — would be expected to stop at the same time. Experts say a pilot or passengers with technical expertise may have switched off the transponder in the hope of flying undetected.

No theory, however, has been ruled out in one of aviation history’s most puzzling mysteries.

The Beijing-bound Boeing 777-200 last communicated with air traffic base stations east of Malaysia in the South China Sea, which for several days has the main focus of the search. Planes and ships also have been searching the Strait of Malacca west of Malaysia because of a blip on military radar suggested the plane might have turned in that direction after the last confirmed contact.

If the plane flew another four hours, it could be much farther away.

Indian ships and planes have been searching northwest of Malaysia in the eastern Andaman Sea, and on Friday expanded their search to areas west of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands chain Friday, said V.S.R. Murty, an Indian Coast Guard inspector-general.

The White House said the U.S. may be drawn into a new phase of the search in the vast Indian Ocean but did not offer details. The U.S. Navy 7th Fleet said it was moving one of its ships, the USS Kidd, into the Strait of Malacca.

Hishamuddin said the search also would be expanded to

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