Australia takes up southern search for lost plane

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A Chinese girl is taken a picture in front of an electronic display showing the weather information of the cities in Asia at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Sepang, Malaysia, Monday, March 17, 2014. When someone at the controls calmly said the last words heard from the missing Malaysian jetliner, one of the Boeing 777′s communications systems had already been disabled, adding to suspicions that one or both of the pilots were involved in the disappearance of the flight. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

A Chinese girl is taken a picture in front of an electronic display showing the weather information of the cities in Asia at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Sepang, Malaysia, Monday, March 17, 2014. When someone at the controls calmly said the last words heard from the missing Malaysian jetliner, one of the Boeing 777′s communications systems had already been disabled, adding to suspicions that one or both of the pilots were involved in the disappearance of the flight. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

An unidentified woman with her face painted, depicting the flight of the missing Malaysia Airline, MH370, poses in front of the “wall of hope” at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, Monday, March 17, 2014. Authorities now believe someone on board the Boeing 777 shut down part of the aircraft’s messaging system about the same time the plane with 239 people on board disappeared from civilian radar. But an Inmarsat satellite was able to automatically connect with a portion of the messaging system that remained in operation, similar to a phone call that just rings because no one is on the other end to pick it up and provide information. No location information was exchanged, but the satellite continued to identify the plane once an hour for four to five hours after it disappeared from radar screens. (AP Photo/Joshua Paul)

Relatives of Chinese passengers aboard missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 watch a TV news program about the missing plane as they wait for more official information at a hotel ballroom in Beijing, China, Monday, March 17, 2014. Attention focused Sunday on the pilots of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight after the country’s leader announced findings so far that suggest someone with intimate knowledge of the Boeing 777′s cockpit seized control of the plane and sent it off-course. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)

An unidentified woman with her face painted, depicting the flight of the missing Malaysia Airline, MH370, poses in front of the “wall of hope” at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, Monday, March 17, 2014. Authorities now believe someone on board the Boeing 777 shut down part of the aircraft’s messaging system about the same time the plane with 239 people on board disappeared from civilian radar. But an Inmarsat satellite was able to automatically connect with a portion of the messaging system that remained in operation, similar to a phone call that just rings because no one is on the other end to pick it up and provide information. No location information was exchanged, but the satellite continued to identify the plane once an hour for four to five hours after it disappeared from radar screens. (AP Photo/Joshua Paul)

Relatives of Chinese passengers aboard missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 watch a TV news program about the missing plane as they wait for more official information at a hotel ballroom in Beijing, China, Monday, March 17, 2014. Attention focused Sunday on the pilots of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight after the country’s leader announced findings so far that suggest someone with intimate knowledge of the Boeing 777′s cockpit seized control of the plane and sent it off-course. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Australia took the lead Monday in searching for the missing Boeing 777 over the southern Indian Ocean as Malaysia requested radar data and search planes to help in the unprecedented hunt through a vast swath of Asia stretching northwest into Kazakhstan.

Investigators say the Malaysia Airlines jet carrying 239 people was deliberately diverted and its communications equipment switched off shortly after takeoff during an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8. Suspicion has fallen on anyone aboard the plane with aviation experience, particularly the pilot and co-pilot.

Malaysian police confiscated a flight simulator from the pilot’s home Saturday and also visited the home of the co-pilot, in what Malaysia’s police chief Khalid Abu Bakar later said was the first police visits to those homes. The government issued a statement Monday contradicting that account by saying that police first visited the pilots’ home on March 9, the day after the flight.

Malaysia’s government in the meantime was sending out diplomatic cables to all countries in the search area, seeking their help with the search, as well as to ask for any radar data that might help narrow the task.

The search initially focused on seas on either side of peninsular Malaysia, in the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.

Over the weekend, however, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that investigators determined that a satellite picked up a faint signal from the aircraft about 7 ½ hours after takeoff. That meant the plane would have been somewhere on a vast arc stretching from Kazakhstan down to the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.

Had the plane gone northwest toward Kazakhstan, it would have crossed over countries with busy airspace, and some experts believe the person in control of the aircraft would more likely have chosen to go south. However, authorities are not ruling out the northern corridor and are eager for radar data that might confirm or rule out that path.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament that he agreed to take the lead scouring the southern Indian Ocean for the “ill-fated aircraft” during a conversation Monday with Malaysia’s leader.

“Australia will do its duty in this matter,” Abbott told parliament. “We

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