NEW DELHI - India on Sunday suspended its search for Malaysia Airlines flight 370 around the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands and in the Bay of Bengal and is awaiting a new request from Malaysia, a defence official said.
"The entire operation is on hold for now. We are awaiting fresh instructions from Malaysia," said Colonel Harmit Singh, spokesman for India's army, navy and airforce command in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
"None of the planes from our air fleet took off today. Even the navy vessels involved in search operations have moved to another island," Singh told AFP.
India had been combing two separate areas around the islands in the Andaman Sea and in the Bay of Bengal as part of the international search for the plane that went missing on March 8 carrying 239 people.
In the latest twist in the mysterious disappearance, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday that the plane was apparently deliberately diverted and flown for hours after vanishing from radar.
A crew member looks out the window from a Malaysian Air Force CN235 aircraft during a SAR operation. PHOTO/AFP
The press was blocked from a meeting with desperate relatives of passengers of the missing jet in Beijing. PHOTO/AFP
Chinese relatives of the missing plane passengers are desperate for any information about their loved ones. PHOTO/AFP
Subramaniam Gurusamy, 60, shows a portrait of his son Puspanathan who was onboard the missing jet. PHOTO/AFP
An Indonesian student displays a message expressing prayers and well-wishes for the missing passengers. PHOTO/AFP
He stopped short of confirming a hijack but the comments take the excruciating search for the jet into uncharted new territory, as frustrated families of those on board wait for news.
Singh said India's six ships and five aircraft were being diverted to the island of Kamorta in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where India has a naval base.
A navy source said they were waiting until after a press conference planned by Malaysia for later Sunday, when India was expected to receive instructions about a new search area.
The international search is now focused on two flight corridors -- a northern one stretching from northern Thailand to Kazakhstan and a southern zone from Indonesia towards the southern Indian Ocean.
Several analysts favoured a route along the southern corridor over the ocean, saying the northern one would have required the plane to travel undetected through numerous national airspaces in a strategically sensitive region.