Beijing/Kuala Lumpur: The multinational search operations for the Beijing-bound Malaysian Airlines plane that went missing Saturday were further strengthened Tuesday with another Chinese naval vessel joining in.

China sent its second naval vessel, Jinggangshan, to the target sea area Tuesday morning and formed a unit with Mianyang, which arrived Monday, and promptly started search operations for the missing aircraft, Xinhua reported.

According to the Chinese navy, two more warships are expected to reach the area Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, respectively, and a depot ship has been ordered to prepare for moving into the Gulf of Thailand to replenish the vessels engaged in the search operations.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 with 239 people on board vanished without a trace about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur early Saturday. The Boeing 777-200ER was presumed to have crashed off the Vietnamese coast into the South China Sea.

The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 a.m. Saturday and was due to land in Beijing at 6.30 a.m. the same day. The 227 passengers on the flight included five Indians, 154 Chinese and 38 Malaysians.

In order to handle the aftermath of the missing flight, a 13-member Chinese working group, composed of officials from the ministries of foreign affairs, public security, and transport and the Civil Aviation Administration of China, arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport Monday night.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered an all-out search and rescue effort. Several Chinese civilian ships have already been sent to assist the mission.

Dozens of ships and planes from around 10 countries are scouring the waters around flight MH370’s last known location, but no solid clues have been found so far.

The US Navy said Monday it has dispatched one more Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, USS Kidd, to join the USS Pinckney in the search efforts.

The USS Kidd brings its two MH-60R Seahawk helicopters designed for search and rescue, as well as anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, surveillance, communications relay, naval gunfire support and logistics support, the US Navy said.

Other countries, including Thailand and New Zealand, also sent search and rescue missions to the target sea area. A Thai navy boat was searching the lower part of the Andaman Sea off southern Thailand, while a Royal New Zealand Air Force P3 Orion aircraft is en route to join the search.

Vietnam’s search and rescue mission also pledged Tuesday to further extend the search area in cooperation with other countries though the chances of locating the missing passenger plane now appear remote.

Vietnam confirmed that a life jacket-like object, spotted at sea by a commercial plane from Hong Kong earlier Monday, turned out to be unrelated to flight MH370.

Meanwhile, Christian Kozel, the 60-year-old Austrian whose stolen passport caused him to be registered on seat number 26 of the missing flight, gave his first interview Monday.

Kozel, a retired massage therapist living in the Austrian city of Salzburg, said his passport was stolen two years ago at the Phuket International Airport in Thailand during a moment of carelessness.

Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines, in its latest website update issued at 11.15 a.m. Tuesday, said that search and rescue teams have expanded the scope beyond the flight path to the western peninsula of Malaysia at the Straits of Malacca.

“The authorities are looking at a possibility of an attempt made by MH370 to turn back to Subang. All angles are being looked at. We are not ruling out any possibilities,” it said.

“The mission is aided by various countries namely Australia, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines and the United States of America. The assets deployed to cover the search and rescue is extensive,” the statement said, adding that apart from the search in the sea, search on land in between these areas was also being conducted.

According to the airliner, the B777-200 aircraft that operated MH370 underwent maintenance Feb 23 this year, 12 days before this particular flight March 8 and there were no issues on the health of the aircraft. The next check is due June 19 this year.

Source: IANS