KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysian officials backed away today from assertions that the missing Malaysian Airlines flight made it to the Strait of Malacca after turning away from its intended course.
The country's air force chief said in a statement today the missing Boeing 777 may have attempted to turn back before it vanished from radar, but there is no evidence it reached the Strait of Malacca off the western coast of Malaysia.
Gen. Rodzali Daud denied remarks reported by a Malaysian newspaper that he had asserted otherwise, based on military radar tracking.
Meantime, the country's civilian aviation chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said he could neither confirm nor deny the military's earlier reported remarks, that military radar had tracked the plane as it turned direction and flew in a western direction after ending active transponder transmissions.
The developments contributed to what appeared to be a state of confusion at the highest levels of that country over where the plane might be and deepened the mystery of what happened to flight MH370. There were 239 people aboard, including a crew of 12, on a flight to Beijing.
"There is a possibility of an air turn back. We are still investigating and looking at the radar readings," Rahman said today. It is possible that the radar readings are not definitive, especially if the plane was malfunctioning.
Malaysia Airlines said searchers were widening the scope of the search Tuesday to focus for the first time on Malaysia's western coast, though Daud did not say why the military was able to detect the plane and civilian authorities were not.
An armada of ships and planes have been searching for wreckage of Flight 370 since it vanished from radar early Saturday.
The airliner last transmitted a signal to civilian aviation authorities over the Gulf of Thailand, east of Malaysia and south of Vietnam, about 1:30 a.m., or roughly an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur.
But the Malaysian military had said Tuesday that at 2:40 a.m. the jet was far to the west over the Malacca Strait.
Also Tuesday, Malaysian and international police said two Iranians who boarded Flight MH370 with stolen passports had bought tickets to get to Europe, where they hoped to obtain asylum. Their presence on the flight had raised speculation of a possible terrorist link.
Interpol Secretary-General Ronald Noble said neither man has a criminal record. Police in Malaysia said one of the men, Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 19, was intending to migrate to Germany and is not suspected of having links to terrorism groups.
Gen. Khalid Abu Bakar, Malaysia's police chief inspector, said police had spoken to the man's mother who said she knew her son was using a stolen passport to join her in Frankfurt.
Interpol identified the second man as Delavar Seyed Mohammadreza, 29. He entered and left Malaysia at the same time and date as Mehrdad. Southeast Asia is a hub for illegal migration.
MALAYSIA AIRLINES PROBE: Iranian linked to stolen passports on doomed jet
Bakar said authorities had "no prior intelligence on activities of terrorists" in connection with the flight but that did not mean they were ruling out terrorism. He said the investigation into the missing flight was focused on four areas: hijacking, sabotage, personal problems among crew and passengers, and psychological problems among crew or passengers.
As an example of relevant psychological or personal problems, Bakar suggested police would investigate "if somebody on the flight had bought huge sums of insurance," so their family could gain, or were in severe debt. "We are looking into every possibility," he said.
An Australian TV station reported that the first officer on the missing plane, Fariq Abdul Hamid, had invited two women into the cockpit during a flight in 2011. One of the women, Jonti Roos, said she and a friend were allowed to stay in the cockpit during the one-hour flight from Phuket, Thailand, to Kuala Lumpur, and that it did not seem unusual to the plane's crew.
Malaysia Airlines said it took the allegations very seriously at the time but that, "We are in the midst of a crisis, and we do not want our attention to be diverted."