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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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Wendy March 13 2014 at 6:14 AM

WOW, just when you think it can't get any stranger, it does! Hopefully with the U.S. in there things will be resolved.

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1 reply
john chism Wendy March 13 2014 at 6:39 AM

Isn't it funny how people pick and choose when they want the American's to help. With so many these day's saying we should not be getting involved with other countries problems. Along comes a missing plane and those same people are glad we're there. The cost of a search like this is multi-millions of dollars. In any other situation if the USA was sending that amount to help a another country...they'd be screaming about it.

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1 reply
Kurtcobainskyblueyes john chism March 13 2014 at 6:52 AM

Thank you! So true! Like you said, if America was sending the same amount of money to help starving children from dying, the same people would be typing "hell no" at the speed of lightning! They want to show the world the U.S. is superior but not caring and loving!

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trish71699fl2 March 13 2014 at 6:46 AM

Media hype and tons of supposition equals more pain and torture for families wanting news of their loved ones.

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toddpugz March 13 2014 at 6:33 AM

It's getting to be like a 21st century Flight 19.

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immann March 13 2014 at 6:53 AM

UFO's

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jupiterjef March 13 2014 at 6:46 AM

As I said previously, you could pretty much discredit the so called Chinese satellite photos because they did not release photos from the days prior...basic "101" logic, although none of the so called "expert" commentators picked up on this yesterday. So much for "experts". "Debris" does not suddenly appear, unless there's a crash. Before and after photos would show that. Whether China did this on purpose, or they just have inferior technology that cannot be verified and thus should not be released, who knows? At least we have some peace of mind that they ( the Chinese), are way behind when it comes to satellite imagery.

I'd put my money on Rolls Royce's (the engine builders) claim that the engine remained on for 4 hrs after the transponder went off...where the plane eventually went down, no one knows...But rest assured, a US or European satellite will locate it.

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hwshockeymom March 13 2014 at 6:51 AM

This is just a horrible thing for all these families to have to go through. Nobody really seems to know what happened. I hope we find out more with the U.S. people now involved. It seems to get more confusing each day that passes. I hope we can find them!

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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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ficeman1961 March 13 2014 at 6:46 AM

If the plane went down in the water, wouldn't there be debris floating? Something. At the spee of the airplane, it should have broken up. And before we compare this to the Sully flight. His was in the river, smaller waves and less speed that what this plane would have going. I truly think it flew under radar somewhere and landed.

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REDTAG March 13 2014 at 6:19 AM

Nothing but guesses.

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Jo March 13 2014 at 7:01 AM

I can't imagine what it must be like to be a relative of a loved one on that plane. Limbo is hell.

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