According to the latest reports out of Malaysia, there were no signs of the missing Malaysian 777 at the latitude and longitude depicted in satellite images published by the People's Republic of China. Malaysia's civil aviation chief, Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, told the Associated Press that planes searched the area and "there is nothing. We went there, there is nothing." The controversy over the handling of this situation has been building over recent days, since it seems like both Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government are unsure of which direction the plane was flying.
However, the big news comes from the Wall Street Journal, which is reporting two sources have told them there's evidence the plane stayed in the air four hours after it was last seen on radar screens. According to the report, U.S. investigators have determined this by noticing the plane's engines were still sending in-flight data to the ground as part of a maintenance program that monitors performance.
According to Boeing's website, the company offers Airplane Health Management (AHM), which can relay information on system faults, fuel consumption, and CO2 emissions to the ground while the plane is in-flight. There are some conflicting reports as to whether Malaysia Airlines actually had contracted this service with Boeing for their fleet of 777s. However, the engines of this 777 were built by Rolls-Royce, and they periodically send performance data to the ground as part of a service agreement. That performance data is reportedly compiled and sent to Rolls-Royce every 30 minutes.
Aviation investigators and national security officials believe the plane flew for a total of five hours based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the Boeing Co. 777's engines as part of a routine maintenance and monitoring program ... U.S. counterterrorism officials are pursuing the possibility that a pilot or someone else on board the plane may have diverted it toward an undisclosed location after intentionally turning off the jetliner's transponders to avoid radar detection, according to one person tracking the probe.Although, this brings up another oddity about this situation. Assuming this report is accurate, and the plane flew another four hours, how did they fly that long without being picked up on a radar screen in one of the surrounding countries as an unidentified aircraft? Whoever was flying the plane in such a circumstance would needed to have flown the 777 at extremely low altitudes to avoid radar detection.
The investigation remains fluid, and it isn't clear whether investigators have evidence indicating possible terrorism or espionage. So far, U.S. national security officials have said that nothing specifically points toward terrorism, though they haven't ruled it out.
But the huge uncertainty about where the plane was headed, and why it apparently continued flying so long without working transponders, has raised theories among investigators that the aircraft may have been commandeered for a reason that appears unclear to U.S. authorities. Some of those theories have been laid out to national security officials and senior personnel from various U.S. agencies, according to one person familiar with the matter.
At one briefing, according to this person, officials were told investigators are actively pursuing the notion that the plane was diverted "with the intention of using it later for another purpose." As of Wednesday it remained unclear whether the plane reached an alternate destination or if it ultimately crashed, potentially hundreds of miles from where an international search effort has been focused ... The engine data is being analyzed to help determine the flight path of the plane after the transponders stopped working. The jet was originally headed for China, and its last verified position was half way across the Gulf of Thailand.
A total flight time of five hours after departing Kuala Lumpur means the Boeing 777 could have continued for an additional distance of about 2,200 nautical miles, reaching points as far as the Indian Ocean, the border of Pakistan or even the Arabian Sea, based on the jet's cruising speed.
Also, it's not like you can land this thing on any old road or highway. If the plane was taken in some sort of attempt to divert it for a later use, a 777-200 needs a runway between a mile to two miles long to land, depending on the weather conditions and the operational landing weight. (cargo, fuel, number of passengers, etc.)
Yet another conflicting storyline has emerged in the perplexing disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 nearly six days ago.
After search crews failed to find any trace of debris suggested by Chinese satellite photographs, Malaysian officials on Thursday said there was no evidence to back a newspaper report suggesting the plane may have kept flying for four hours after its last reported contact ... Malaysia's acting Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein rejected the Wall Street Journal report at a news conference Thursday, reiterating that the plane sent its last transmissions at 1:07 a.m. Saturday.
MAS Chief Executive Officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya Thursday emphasized that the last transmission from the aircraft was at 1:07am last Saturday, and nothing beyond that.
He said the national carrier had asked Rolls Royce and Boeing specifically about reports saying that the missing aircraft was still flying hours after missing, and confirmed that it was inaccurate.
"We have contacted both possible source of the data, Rolls Royce and Boeing. Both had said they did not receive the data," he told a media briefing here Thursday.
U.S. officials have an "indication" the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner may have crashed in the Indian Ocean and is moving the USS Kidd to the area to begin searching.
It will take another 24 hours to move the ship into position, a senior Pentagon official told ABC News.
"We have an indication the plane went down in the Indian Ocean," the senior official said.
The official said there were indications that the plane flew four or five hours after disappearing from radar and that they believe it went into the water.
Communications satellites picked up faint electronic pulses from Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 after it went missing on Saturday, but the signals gave no indication about where the stray jet was heading nor its technical condition, a source close to the investigation said on Thursday.
The "pings" equated to an indication that the aircraft's maintenance troubleshooting systems were ready to communicate with satellites if needed, but no links were opened because Malaysia Airlines and others had not subscribed to the full troubleshooting service, the source said.
Two sources familiar with the investigation into the disappearance of the jet five days ago also confirmed that manufacturers Boeing and Rolls-Royce did not receive any maintenance data from the jet after the point at which its pilots last made contact. Only one engine maintenance update was received during the normal phase of flight, they said, speaking on condition on anonymity.
Boeing and Rolls-Royce declined comment.
New information has led to the possibility of opening a new search area in the Indian Ocean for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday. He offered no further details to reporters, stressing that the Malaysian government is leading the investigation.
1:26 PM PT: One final update: The Wall Street Journal has "corrected" their story to note that satellite, not engine, data is the basis for the claim that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was in the air up to four hours after contact was lost with the plane.
The investigators believe the plane flew for a total of up to five hours, according to these people, based on analysis of signals sent by the Boeing 777's satellite-communication link designed to automatically transmit the status of certain onboard systems to the ground.
Throughout the roughly four hours after the jet dropped from civilian radar screens, these people said, the link operated in a kind of standby mode and sought to establish contact with a satellite or satellites. These transmissions did not include data, they said, but the periodic contacts indicate to investigators that the plane was still intact and believed to be flying.