Reports by residents of a small Indian Ocean island community in the Maldives that they saw a large passenger jet flying over the area on the morning that the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was reported missing have raised the possibility that the plane could have crashed 5,000 kilometers away from the area where Australian authorities have been conducting intensive search.
According to the Weekend Australian, several residents of the remote Maldives island of Kuda Huvadhoo, south of the Dhaal Atoll in the Indian Ocean, reported seeing a "low-flying jumbo jet" at about 6:15 a.m. local time on March 8, 2014, the morning that flight MH370, with 239 passengers, flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, went missing.
A local news outlet, the Haveeru, reports that witnesses, several of whom have made statements to local officials, said the white-colored jumbo jet was flying very low north to southeast, so low that red and blue markings similar to those of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight could be seen clearly.
"I've never seen a jet flying so low over our island before. We've seen seaplanes, but I'm sure that this was not one of those. I could even make out the doors on the plane clearly. It's not just me either, several other residents have reported seeing the exact same thing. Some people got out of their houses to see what was causing the tremendous noise too."
A witness, IT manager Ahmed Shiyaam, 34, said he was very sure of what he saw, according to the Daily Mail.
"I'm very sure of what I saw on a very clear and bright day, and what I saw was not normal- the plane was very big, and low. I did not know until later that other people saw it too. I don't know if it's the Malaysia plane."
Another witness, Abdu Rasheed Ibrahim, said he saw the plane and believes that it could have been the missing passenger jet.
"I didn't know that a plane was missing. I went straight home and told my wife about it. I told my family, 'I saw this strange plane.' This is the biggest plane I have ever seen from this island... I have seen pictures of the missing plane- I believe I saw the plane... I strongly felt those people who were searching should come here."
The military authorities in the Maldives reportedly denied the reports, but local witnesses alleged that the authorities issued the denial only to hide the fact of their poor radar facilities.
Reports from the Maldives islanders came soon after acoustic science researchers at Curtin University's Center for Marine Science and Technology in Australia said they obtained "clear acoustic" signals from the Maldives area that could be the impact of the plane when it crashed into waters in the region.
According to principal investigator Dr. Alec Duncan, in a statement released by the university, the signal was detected from the west of Rottnest Island at about 1:30 a.m. UTC on March 8, close to the Maldives island of Kuda Huvadhoo.
Although Duncan admitted that the signals could have been caused by an earth tremor or another geological event, he said that the timing makes it necessary to consider the possibility that it was the impact of the plane in the ocean that scientists detected.
"Data from one of the IMOS (Integrated Marine Observing System) recorders showed a clear acoustic signal at a time that was reasonably consistent with other information relating to the disappearance of MH370. The crash of a large aircraft in the ocean would be a high energy event and expected to generate intense underwater sounds.
"It would be more correct to say that our team has identified an approximate possible location for the origin of a noise that is probably of geological origin, but cannot be ruled out as being connected with the loss of MH370."
The scientists said they are investigating the signals in the hope that it might help in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight.
After intensive and exhaustive search for the missing flight over a large swathe of ocean off the coast of Western Australia, about 1,800 kilometers southwest of Perth failed to yield any clues, investigators would likely be willing to consider new evidence that could lead to recovery of the crashed airline.
The choice of the area where search is currently ongoing was informed by analysis of satellite data captured from "pings" from MH370 during its final hours.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, disappeared from civilian and later military radar after its transponder and other tracking equipment were switched off mid-flight.
Investigators believe the flight was diverted on purpose.
[Images: Wikimedia; World Atlas]