KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia on Tuesday said the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet now encompassed and area slightly larger than the entire land mass of Australia.

“The entire search area is now 2.24 million square nautical miles (7.7 million square kilometres),” acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in a daily press briefing on Tuesday evening.

Australia has a land mass of around 7.6 million square kilometres.

The search area extends north into south central Asia, passing across far western China, including Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as south deep into the Indian Ocean west of Australia.

“This is an enormous search area. And it is something that Malaysia cannot possibly search on its own,” Hishammuddin said.

“I am therefore very pleased that so many countries have come forward to offer assistance and support to the search and rescue operation.”

26 countries have deployed dozens of aircraft to search for the missing Beijing-bound jet that went missing in the early hours of March 8.

Eleven days after contact was lost with the aircraft and its 239 passengers and crew, there has been minimal progress in determining precisely what happened or where the plane ended up.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday satellite data showed the plane had been deliberately diverted after it lost contact with ground controllers.

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