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New uncertainties arise about missing Malaysian jetliner

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - Officials revealed a new timeline Monday suggesting the final voice transmission from the cockpit of the missing Malaysian plane may have occurred before any of its communications systems were disabled, adding more uncertainty about who aboard might have been to blame.

The search for Flight 370, which vanished early March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, has now been expanded deep into the northern and southern hemispheres. Australian vessels scoured the southern Indian Ocean and China offered 21 of its satellites to help Malaysia in the unprecedented hunt.

With no wreckage found in one of the most puzzling aviation mysteries of all time, relatives of those on the Boeing 777 have been left in an agonizing limbo.

Investigators say the plane was deliberately diverted during its overnight flight and flew off-course for hours. They haven't ruled out hijacking, sabotage, or pilot suicide, and they are checking the backgrounds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members, as well as the ground crew, to see if links to terrorists, personal problems or psychological issues could be factors.

Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said finding the plane was still the main focus, and he did not rule out that it might be discovered intact.

"The fact that there was no distress signal, no ransom notes, no parties claiming responsibility, there is always hope," Hishammuddin said at a news conference.

Malaysian Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said an initial investigation indicated that the last words heard from the plane by ground controllers - "All right, good night" - were spoken by the co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid. Had it been a voice other than that of Fariq or the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, it would have clearest indication yet of something amiss in the cockpit before the flight went off-course.

Malaysian officials said earlier that those words came after one of the jetliner's data communications systems - the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System - had been switched off, suggesting the voice from the cockpit may have been trying to deceive ground controllers.

However, Ahmad said that while the last data transmission from ACARS - which gives plane performance and maintenance information - came before that, it was still unclear at what point the system was switched off, making any implications of the timing murkier.

The new information opened the possibility that both ACARS and the plane's transponders, which make the plane visible to civilian air traffic controllers, were turned off at about the same time. It also suggests that the message delivered from the cockpit could have preceded any of the severed communications.

Airline pilots in the United States cautioned against reading too much into what little is known so far about the actions of the Malaysia Airlines crew.

"You can't take anything off the table until everything is on table, and we don't even have an aircraft," said Boeing 737 pilot Mike Karn, president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations.

Authorities have pointed to the shutdown of the transponders and the ACARS as evidence that someone with a detailed knowledge of the plane was involved. But Bob Coffman, an airline captain and former 777 pilot, said that kind of information is probably available on the Internet.

"We really don't know what happened in the airplane at this point," he said.

Authorities confiscated a flight simulator from the pilot's home Saturday and also visited the home of the co-pilot in what Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar initially said were the first police visits to those homes.

But the government, which has come under criticism abroad for missteps and foot-dragging in releasing information, issued a statement Monday contradicting that account, saying police first visited the pilots' homes as early as March 9, the day after the flight disappeared.

Coffman said the flight simulator could signify nothing more than the pilot's zeal for his job.

"There are people for whom flying is all consuming," he said, noting some pilots like to spend their off-duty hours on simulators at home, commenting on pilot blogs or playing fighter-pilot video games.

Although Malaysian authorities requested that all nations with citizens aboard the flight conduct background checks on them, it wasn't clear how thoroughly they were doing such checks at home. The father of a Malaysian aviation engineer aboard the plane said police had not approached anyone in the family about his 29-year-old son, Mohamad Khairul Amri Selamat, though he added that there was no reason to suspect him.

"It is impossible for him to be involved in something like this," said Selamat Omar, 60. "He is a good boy. ... We are keeping our hopes high. I am praying hard that the plane didn't crash and that he will be back soon."

French investigators arriving in Kuala Lumpur to lend expertise from the two-year search for an Air France jet that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 said they were able to rely on distress signals. But that vital tool is missing in the Malaysia Airlines mystery because the flight's communications were deliberately silenced ahead of its disappearance, investigators say.

"It's very different from the Air France case. The Malaysian situation is much more difficult," said Jean Paul Troadec, a special adviser to France's aviation accident investigation bureau.

Malaysia's government sent diplomatic cables to all countries in the search area, seeking more planes and ships for the search, as well as to ask for any radar data that might help.

The search involves 26 countries and initially focused on seas on either side of Peninsular Malaysia, in the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.

The vast scope of the search was underlined when a U.S. destroyer that already has helped cover 15,000 square miles (38,850 square kilometers) of water dropped out.

The Navy determined that long-range aircraft were more efficient in looking for the plane or its debris than the USS Kidd and its helicopters, so effective Tuesday the ship was leaving the Indian Ocean search area, said Navy Cmdr. William Marks, spokesman for the 7th Fleet. Navy P-3 and P-8 surveillance aircraft remain available, and can cover 15,000 square miles (38,850 square kilometers) in a nine-hour flight.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Najib Razak said investigators determined that a satellite picked up a faint signal from the aircraft about 7½ hours after takeoff. The signal indicated the plane would have been somewhere on a vast arc stretching from Kazakhstan in Central Asia to the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.

Hishammuddin said Monday that searches in both the northern and southern stretches of the arc had begun, and that countries from Australia to China in the north and Kazakhstan in the west had joined the hunt.

Had the plane gone northwest to Central Asia, it would have crossed over countries with busy airspace, and some experts believe it more likely would have gone south, although Malaysian authorities are not ruling out the northern corridor and are eager for radar data that might confirm or rule out that route.

The northern corridor crosses through countries including China, India and Pakistan - all of which have said they have seen no sign of the plane. China, where two-thirds of the passengers were from, is providing several planes and 21 satellites for the search, Premier Li Keqiang said in a statement.

"Factors involved in the incident continue to multiply, the area of search-and-rescue continues to broaden, and the level of difficulty increases, but as long as there is one thread of hope, we will continue an all-out effort," Li said.

Indonesia focused on Indian Ocean waters west of Sumatra, air force spokesman Rear Marshall Hadi Tjahjanto said.

Australia agreed to Malaysia's request to take the lead in searching the southern Indian Ocean with four Orion maritime planes that also would be joined by New Zealand and U.S. aircraft, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

"Australia will do its duty in this matter," Abbott told Parliament. "We will do our duty to the families of the 239 people on that aircraft who are still absolutely devastated by their absence, and who are still profoundly, profoundly saddened by this as yet unfathomed mystery."

The southern Indian Ocean is the world's third-deepest and one of the most remote stretches of water, with little radar coverage.


Associated Press writers Joan Lowy and Robert Burns in Washington, Chris Brummitt, Jim Gomez and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Australia, Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
Pearl March 18 2014 at 9:03 AM

What a disgusting mess this is, all this technology and no real answers, someone, somewhere knows more than they are saying.

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dlnrjm March 17 2014 at 6:12 PM

Praying for them all to be found safe

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dontberidiculous March 18 2014 at 9:19 AM

People.....try and understand before you comment angrily without any background or knowledge about aviation. This isn't the US we're talking about. We have various forms of radar coverage everywhere. Planes in the US are watched like a hawk the entire flight. In SE Asia, there are massive stretches of spotty/outdated radar coverage, as well as vast swathes of ocean which has no coverage. Someone with flight experience and a big hangar on some random island in the Pacific/Indian Ocean could pull this off with very little detection. It may never be solved....

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2 replies
Mark dontberidiculous March 18 2014 at 9:49 AM

Amen. The lack of basic intelligence shown by most US comments raises serious concerns about basic knowledge of math, science, and simple logic. Very disturbing. And then there is the outright hate displayed by so many.

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amndcvtch dontberidiculous March 18 2014 at 10:23 AM

If this plane did fly west, I think the technology we have at Diego Garcia would pick it up. If you ask ex military that has been on that island, they have such amazing surveillance capabilities, the DOD or NSA knows where it is. I think we are dealing with something unprecedented here. These pilots were extremely intelligent and knew how to avoid mainstream radar detection. The Chinese engineers may have been an important piece of the puzzle.

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usafgolfrvs March 17 2014 at 6:07 PM


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1 reply
PAULIE usafgolfrvs March 17 2014 at 6:26 PM

PRAY .... I think not .... for what purpose. If there such a thing as GOD or religion that entity had the opportunity to save 239 innocent passengers and FAILED ..... so praying is a rediculous after thought.

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bluddyhell March 17 2014 at 6:05 PM

239 people to feed for 9 days is a lot of people to feed. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if they are alive unless the people are sold to slave trade, I would suspect that some of them are dead already. Heart goes out to them and their families.

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1 reply
truthnocharge bluddyhell March 17 2014 at 6:07 PM

They are all dead...
And they were murdered minutes into the flight.

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2 replies
Sylvie truthnocharge March 17 2014 at 6:13 PM

...and possibly pushed out the door to lighten the load so as to extend the range of the plane?

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Rachel truthnocharge March 17 2014 at 6:21 PM

yes, i'm beginning to think so too, been too long with no ransom request that we know of, unless it's being kept on the dl

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tonyparis4343 March 17 2014 at 8:01 PM

Thanks J. That would also answer somebody else's comment about why cell phones would not have a signal. Maybe. I'm not an expert, but no cell towers in the deep sea far from land I would say. They also say radar coverage is very marginal if they flew south. It's a mystery indeed from what they are letting us know.

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sandlappersatoib March 18 2014 at 9:25 AM

They don't have a friggin' damn clue...HEY MALYASIA...

Let the United States FBI come in and figure it out or at the very least, assist, because you bumbling fools don't ahve a damn clue as how to properly investigate

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1 reply
dontberidiculous sandlappersatoib March 18 2014 at 9:28 AM

FBI? Come on, if you're gonna criticize, at least get your agencies right.

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Jennifer Long March 17 2014 at 8:02 PM

Eventually the plane will be found and mystery solved. It is just very sad for everyone.

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2 replies
Cary Jennifer Long March 17 2014 at 8:20 PM

you are very right please pray for the people on bord the plane my heart goes out to every one on the plane right now iamsure they are all very sad andcrying to wanting to go home and be with there fmailys to night cat50cary@gmail.com

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1 reply
dbrockskk1 Cary March 17 2014 at 9:05 PM


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rpthe1 Jennifer Long March 17 2014 at 8:22 PM

Think Emilia Earhart

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1 reply
David S. rpthe1 March 17 2014 at 8:24 PM

Eh......1937 airplane vs. 2014.......let me think....

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MaryJane March 17 2014 at 8:05 PM

Could there have been a problem with lack of oxygen onboard the plane causing the pilots to become disoriented enough to start turning knobs before falling asleep?

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1 reply
rpthe1 MaryJane March 17 2014 at 8:20 PM

Anything is possible. O2 deprivation can sneak up on you without realizing it's happening.

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bkim55 March 17 2014 at 6:01 PM

All they really know for sure, is that they are clueless and have no idea where the plane is.

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