As the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner spread out across an expanded area nearly the size of the continental United States, the Chinese government said Tuesday that it had ruled out the possibility that any of the Chinese citizens on the plane – about two-thirds of the 227 passengers – were terrorists, separatists or malcontents who might have tried to hijack or destroy it.
Searching one possible flight path, Australia said it would focus its efforts in a specific stretch of the southern Indian Ocean, using computer models of the plane’s possible flight path that take into account undisclosed satellite data, wind conditions and ocean currents and some assumptions about how fast it was flying and how much fuel it had left.
“What we’re doing is producing our best estimate of the most likely place to search, but I would hasten to add it is very far from precise,” said John Young, general manager for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s emergency response division. “Every attempt will be made to further refine the search area.”
China’s public effort to narrow the range of possible suspects in the plane’s disappearance included a specific look at one Chinese citizen who belongs to the Uighur ethnic minority, a Turkic people living mostly in Xinjiang, a restive region in far western China.
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The Chinese ambassador to Malaysia, Huang Huikang, said in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday that Beijing had not received any relevant threats from Uighur separatist groups, and that the Uighur passenger had been cleared of suspicion.
“China has conducted a thorough investigation, and to date we have not found any signs that any passengers onboard the plane participated in destruction or terror attacks,” Huang said at a news briefing for Chinese reporters, according to a summary published online by a state–run newspaper, The People’s Daily.
Huang’s announcement seemed likely to increase the pressure on investigators to determine whether the pilot or co–pilot of the missing jet, both Malaysians, or anyone else onboard was involved in its disappearance. Officials have said that the plane’s abrupt deviation from its normal flight path most likely involved intervention by an experienced aviator.