Claims by people in a remote Maldivian island that they sighted an unidentified plane flying low over their houses in the morning of 8 March have offered a new lead in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
Residents of Kuda Huvadhoo in Dhall Atoll in the Maldives spotted a "low-flying plane" around 6:15 am local time on 8 March, the day MH370 vanished leaving scant trails, Maldivian newspaper Haveeru reported.
The local police are probing the testimonies of the residents, but have not yet disclosed any details.
However, the Indian Ocean island nation's defence forces have said their radars did not detect the plane.
"Further to the surveillance conducted thus far, none of the military radars in the country has detected a trace of the missing plane. Furthermore, no trace of the MH370 Airline has been found from the data scrutinized thus far from radars stationed at the airports in the Maldives," an official statement said.
The reported time of the sighting of the plane in the Maldives would be around 9 am local time in Malaysia, roughly eight hours after the plane lost contact with air traffic control.
The missing Malaysia Airlines plane, a Boeing 777 jet, is capable of carrying enough fuel to stay in air for more than eight hours even with a full load of 239 people on board.
Malaysia did not seek help
Though the last "ping" from the jetliner was received near the Maldives and the US naval base on Diego Garcia, the Malaysian government did not seek help from Maldivian authorities in finding the missing plane, the newspaper said.
Maldivian islanders saw a "low-flying jumbo jet" with white and red stripes across it as on Malaysian Airliners, the report said. The residents heard incredibly loud noise which made them come out of their houses to look for the source of the sound.
The residents said the plane was flying so low that they could even see its doors, and that the jet appeared to be flying from north to south-east, towards the southernmost atoll of Addu.
"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," said an eyewitness.
"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."
'Terrain Masking' theory
Meanwhile, a local aviation expert reportedly told Haveeru that it was "likely" the sighted plane was MH370, as the possibility of any other aircraft flying over the island at the reported time was remote.
The latest eyewitness report has given more credence to the 'Terrain Masking' theory, which has been used to explain the mystery behind the jet's unidentified flight path after losing contact with air traffic control.
Terrain masking avoids detection by radar by positioning the airplane low near the ground to have the natural earth mask the plane from radio waves. Military pilots use this manoeuvre to fly stealthily towards their target.
The New Strait Times reported that the plane descended to an altitude of 5,000 feet or lower, after turning from waypoint 'Igari', the last-confirmed location of the plane, possibly to dodge radar.
"The person who had control of the aircraft has solid knowledge of avionics and navigation and left a clean track," an official told the paper.