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India set to pull out from hunt

New Delhi, March 25: India was preparing today to withdraw two military surveillance aircraft from the hunt for the Malaysia Airlines plane missing since March 8.

It comes a day after investigators concluded that the jetliner had crashed deep in the southern Indian Ocean west of Perth, Australia.

The Indian planes joined the search last Sunday for the plane in a corridor stretching from Indonesia down almost to Antarctica that investigators pinpointed as a likely arc from where the aircraft, MH370, last sent an automated signal to a satellite in the Indian Ocean.

But the search region assigned to the Indian planes — south of Indonesia, between the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn — was yesterday effectively ruled out by Malaysian officials as a possible site for the crash. At a media conference in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said investigators had “concluded that MH370 flew along the southern corridor, and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth”.

The Beijing-bound plane was carrying 227 passengers — including five Indian nationals — and 12 crew members. “This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites,” Razak said. “It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”

The Indian P-8 and C-130J aircraft have been taking off from Subang in Malaysia, and carrying out 10-hour sorties that allow each of them to cover about 2500km before refuelling. But the clear focus on the region west of Perth means any planes participating in the hunt will need to take off from Australia. “We don’t see the point of that,” a senior official here told The Telegraph. “We expect an official conversation with the Malaysians either Tuesday night or Wednesday morning informing us to stop searching in the area that had been assigned to us. When that happens, we’ll bring back our planes.”

Planes from Australia, China, the US, New Zealand and the UAE are already based at Perth, and have been flying out daily to try and locate isolated objects in the open sea spotted by aircraft or satellites, possibly belonging to the wreckage of MH370.

Late last evening, Indian high commissioner in Kuala Lumpur T.S. Tirumurti spoke on the telephone with families of each of the Indian nationals on board the plane. The Indian embassy in Beijing, officials said, is also assisting the family of 42-year-old Canadian-Indian Muktesh Mukherjee, who was on the plane with his Canadian-Chinese wife Xiaomao Bai. Mukherjee is the grandson of Indira Gandhi’s steel and mines minister Mohan Kumaramangalam, who too had died in a plane crash just outside New Delhi’s Palam airport in May 1973. Mukherjee and Bai had left their two young boys in Beijing with friends.