Friday, March 14, 2014

India Expands Its Efforts in Search for Missing Jet

NEW DELHI — Six days after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared from radar screens, Indian military forces intensified their efforts Friday to find traces of the plane in the Andaman Sea.

The search includes ships, planes and nearly 1,000 personnel from India’s navy, coast guard and air force, officials said. The forces are traversing a politically sensitive area, which India has been eager to show it is able to police militarily.

The vast operation is being led by the Indian Navy, which, despite a number of deadly accidents and embarrassing episodes over the past year, is widely considered the country’s most capable military branch.

A navy spokesman refused Friday to estimate how long the search might take. “How can you ask such a question?” Capt. D. K. Sharma said. “This is like looking for a needle in that vast expanse of sea.”

The search for the plane, which disappeared Saturday, has been underway both east and west of peninsular Malaysia. The search to the west, which for two days had been largely concentrated in an area of the sea between Thailand, the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, was expanded Friday to include waters west of the island chain.

Four naval ships were leading the search, but the coast guard also sent two of its ships and two utility aircraft. On Friday, it also deployed a search helicopter, said V. S. R. Murthy, chief of the Indian Coast Guard for the island chain.

“We have already covered the eastern side of the Andamans and Nicobar, so today we are searching on the western side of the Andamans,” Mr. Murthy said Friday. “Up until now, we have not found any traces of the Malaysian plane.”

The Indian Air Force contributed to the search a recently-acquired Lockheed C-130J Hercules aircraft and an antisubmarine Boeing P-8 Poseidon.

China’s increasingly assertive naval presence in the South China Sea has unnerved New Delhi, and Indian naval forces are particularly eager to demonstrate their capabilities in the Andaman Sea, a critical sea lane between the Far East and the Middle East.

Five Indians are among the 227 passengers missing from Flight 370, including Vinod and Chetana Kolekar, who were traveling with their 23-year-old son, Swanand Kolekar, to visit their elder son, who is doing postdoctoral research in Beijing.

Another passenger, Chandirka Sharma, 51, executive secretary of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, a Chennai-based nonprofit organization, was on her way to a conference in Mongolia. Her husband, K. S. Narendran, has criticized what he termed a “languid” response by the Indian government to the aircraft’s disappearance.

Hari Kumar, Suhasini Raj, Malavika Vyawahare and Nida Najar contributed reporting.

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