Malaysia says no sighting of MH370 in Maldives, people on board innocent till proven otherwise

SEPANG - Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Maldives has clarified that it was not true the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was sighted in its airspace.

He also told reporters on Wednesday that the passengers and crew of MH370 are innocent till proven otherwise.

"Regarding reports that the plane was sighted in the Maldives, I can confirm that the Malaysian Chief of the Defence Force has contacted his counterpart in the Maldives, who has confirmed that these reports are not true,'' he told a press briefing.

He also said Malaysia has received background on all passengers from Russia and Ukraine, but so far no significant data has been found.

"I would like to take this opportunity to state that the passengers, the pilots and the crew remain innocent until proven otherwise. For the sake of their families, I ask that we refrain from any unnecessary speculation that might make an already difficult time even harder,'' he added.

The search now covers 2.24 million square nautical miles and stretches from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in Central Asia to southern Indian Ocean.

The plane disappeared on March 8 while travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. There were 239 passengers and crew on board, most of them are China citizens.

As for support to families of the missing Chinese passengers, Mr Hishammuddin said a high-level team would be deployed to Beijing.

"I would like to announce that in addition to the team that is already on the ground, Malaysia is currently assembling a high-level team that will immediately travel to Beijing. The team will give briefings and updates to the next of kin on the latest situation, and on search and rescue plans,'' he said.

The team will include representatives from the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Royal Malaysian Air Force, the Department of Civil Aviation, and Malaysia Airlines.

The team will be led by Lieutenant General Dato Sri Ackbal bin Haji Abdul Samad, Air Operation Commander, Royal Malaysia Air Force. He will be assisted by Mr Ahmad Nizar bin Zolfakar, director of Air Traffic Services, Department of Civil Aviation.