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Malaysian plane may have flown hours after losing contact - WSJ



(Reuters) - U .S. investigators probing the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet believe it may have flown for four hours after losing contact with air traffic controllers, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

If confirmed, the report would represent another dramatic twist in what is already one of the most baffling mysteries in modern aviation history - the fate of Flight MH370, which took off from Kuala Lumpur early on Saturday and dropped off civilian radar screens less than an hour into its flight to Beijing.

On the sixth day of the search, planes were sweeping an area of sea where Chinese satellite images had shown what could be debris, but had so far found no sign of the airliner.

The Wall Street Journal said U.S. aviation investigators and national security officials believed the plane flew for a total of five hours, based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the Boeing 777's engines as part of a standard monitoring program. (r.reuters.com/ruw57v)

It raises the possibility that the plane, and the 239 people on board, could have flown on for an additional distance of about 2,200 miles, potentially reaching Pakistan, destinations in the Indian Ocean or Mongolia, the paper said.

A senior Malaysia Airlines official told Reuters that no such data existed, while a second official said he was unaware of it. A spokeswoman for engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce had no immediate comment.

Malaysia Airlines has said previously that the Rolls-Royce Trent engines stopped transmitting monitoring signals when contact with the plane was lost.

PRESSURE ON MALAYSIA

As frustration mounts over the failure to find any trace of the plane, China heaped pressure on Malaysia to improve coordination in the search. Around two-thirds of the people aboard the lost plane were Chinese.

Premier Li Keqiang, speaking at a news conference in Beijing, demanded that the "relevant party" step up coordination while China's civil aviation chief said he wanted a "smoother" flow of information from Malaysia, which has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the disaster.

Vietnamese and Malaysian planes scanned waters where a Chinese government agency website said a satellite had photographed three "suspicious floating objects" on Sunday. The location was close to where the plane lost contact with air traffic control.

Aircraft repeatedly circled the area over the South China Sea but were unable to detect any objects, said a Reuters journalist aboard one of the planes.

One U.S. official close to the investigation said the Chinese satellite report was a "red herring".
It was the latest in a series of false signals given to the multi-national search team that has been combing 27,000 square nautical miles (93,000 square km), an area the size of Hungary, for the Boeing 777-200ER.

On Wednesday, Malaysia's air force chief said military radar had traced what could have been the jetliner to an area south of the Thai holiday island of Phuket, hundreds of miles to the west of its last known position.

His statement followed a series of conflicting accounts of the flight path of the plane, which left authorities uncertain even which sea to search.

LAST SIGHTING

The last definitive sighting on civilian radar screens came shortly before 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, as the plane flew northeast across the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand.

Rodzali Daud, the Malaysian air force chief, told a news conference on Wednesday that an aircraft was plotted on military radar at 2:15 a.m., 200 miles northwest of Penang Island off Malaysia's west coast at the northern tip of the Strait of Malacca.

But there has been no confirmation that the unidentified plane was Flight MH370, Rodzali said, and Malaysia was sharing the data with international civilian and military authorities, including those from the United States.

"We are corroborating this," he added. "We are still working with the experts."

U.S. counterterrorism officials are pursuing the possibility that a pilot or someone else on board may have diverted the plane toward an undisclosed location after intentionally turning off the jetliner's transponders to avoid radar detection, The Wall Street Journal said, citing one person tracking the probe.

If the military radar signal cited by Rodzali was the missing plane, the aircraft would have flown for 45 minutes and dropped only about 5,000 feet in altitude since its sighting on civilian radar in the Gulf of Thailand.

That would mean the plane had turned sharply west from its original course, travelling hundreds of miles over the Malay Peninsula from the Gulf of Thailand to the Andaman Sea to a point roughly south of Phuket and east of the tip of Indonesia's Aceh province and India's Nicobar island chain.

Indonesia and Thailand have said their militaries detected no sign of any unusual aircraft in their airspace. Malaysia has asked India for help in tracing the aircraft and New Delhi's coastguard planes have joined the search.

U.S. EXPERTS ASSISTING

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said in a statement that its experts in air traffic control and radar who travelled to Kuala Lumpur over the weekend were giving the Malaysians technical help.

A U.S. official in Washington said the experts were shown two sets of radar records, military and civilian, and they both appeared to show the plane turning to the west across the Malay peninsula.
But the official stressed the records were raw data returns that were not definitive.
A dozen countries are taking part in the search, with 42 ships and 39 aircraft involved.

Authorities have not ruled out any cause for the disappearance. Malaysian police have said they were investigating whether any passengers or crew on the plane had personal or psychological problems that might shed light on the mystery, along with the possibility of a hijacking, sabotage or mechanical failure.

Two men on board were discovered by investigators to have false passports, but they were apparently seeking to emigrate illegally to the West.

The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records of any commercial aircraft in service. Its only previous fatal crash came on July 6 last year when Asiana Airlines Flight 214 struck a seawall with its undercarriage on landing in San Francisco, killing three people.

Boeing has declined to comment beyond a brief statement saying it was monitoring the situation.
(Additional reporting by Niluksi Koswanage, Siva Govindasamy and Yantoultra Ngui in Kuala Lumpur, Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Mai Nguyen, Ho Binh Minh and Martin Petty in Hanoi, Tim Hepher in Paris. Mark Hosenball and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Dean Yates and Nick Macfie)

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eeodjo March 13 2014 at 8:23 PM

If on this report that a possible hijacking could have taken place and turning off the transponder to avoid communication detection, then what are the motives for hijacking?? Could one of the motive be an exchange of over 200 lives for cash?? It doesn't appear to be a political hijacking as there were no reports of high political figures on board. So we are back to square one, wondering and searching. Only the Almighty can decide the fate of all those on board. Hope the Almighty can help mankind in the process.

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Ripper March 13 2014 at 8:40 AM

What is really bizarre is the fact that in one of the articles yesterday. Someone made a comment about it being taken to Pakistan as more of a sarcasm, then fact. Now this article just happens to come out this morning claiming this new revelation. Just plain weird in my opinion.

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Lee's Sun March 13 2014 at 7:14 AM

flying to Pakistan!?? you know, my gutt told me something was fishy about those two 'stolen passport' guys....even though the US says they had nothing to do with this, the picture they showed of the two OBVIOUSLY looked like they were boarding together. What are the odds of two men , both with stolen passports, boarding the plane side by side? At first glance, I thought they knew each other.

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cottageonsparrow March 13 2014 at 7:13 AM

yes Davidspetty you are missing something. The black boxes, and there are two (actually orange in clolor) are mounted in the aircraft and one records voice transmissions from ATC and the crew along with crew transmissions to each other. The other box records aircraft parameters such as speed, altitude, angle of attack, engine power settings, direction, bank etc etc. These boxes record, they do not transmit. You have to find them in order to open them and play the recordings.

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jcecoman13 March 13 2014 at 8:29 AM

Malaysia triangle?

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jmopar1 March 13 2014 at 7:10 AM

pray they find the plane and all the people safe---it is possible

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bleon74066 March 13 2014 at 8:41 AM

Did none of the passengers have cell phones? If something happened fast and no one had time to make a call, can't those things be tracked anyway?

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1 reply
tcdesalvo bleon74066 March 13 2014 at 8:57 AM

It's not like they were flying over California at the time. I doubt many cell towers exist out over the ocean.

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1 reply
Jess tcdesalvo March 13 2014 at 9:19 AM

I'm sure if it was hijacked the hijackers took everyones cell phones so they couldn't get contact. It is really making sense that it was hijacked and I don't think they flew over the ocean for very long. I'm sure they tried to track the cell phones but couldn't get a respond because they were all taken. Just a thought

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John N. R. March 13 2014 at 8:42 AM

i'll bet it landed safely know what are they going to do with it.

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bagawire March 13 2014 at 7:07 AM

I really do hope they solve this mystery because I have travelled to Asia on all my trips on a "777" and I cant furter express this is truly a flawless machine

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2 replies
Elizabeth bagawire March 13 2014 at 7:17 AM

No machine is ever flawless.

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doonooch bagawire March 13 2014 at 7:20 AM

I hear ya loud and clear on that. I just returned from Seoul the following evening on a 777-200 after the disappearance of this flight. Even more spooky, last year I flew Seoul / Seattle on Asiana (A330) the same day their 777 crashed at SFO. They deprted a few hours before my flight and remember the passengers boarding that aircraft. The timing of these incidents/accidents for me send shivers up my spine. what are the chances?

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Colin March 13 2014 at 8:43 AM

For some reason when they said it could be Pakistan I believe that possibility exists.

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