- Malaysia’s air force chief denies saying that radar tracked flight MH370 over the Strait of Malacca
- On Tuesday General Rodzali Daud was quoted as claiming plane was tracked far from where it last made contact
- Said, ‘Plane made apparent u-turn and flew at lower altitude for up to an hour’
- ‘I wish to state that I did not make any such statements,’ Rodzali said on Wednesday
- The international search for a missing Malaysian airliner has been expanded into the Andaman Sea, hundreds miles to the northwest of the original search radius
- Transponder sending location to air controllers was switched off or faulty
- CIA boss: key question is how transponder could be switched off
- Airline said on Saturday the flight last made contact off the east cost
and Chris Greenwood
07:12 EST, 11 March 2014
04:19 EST, 12 March 2014
‘Alright, good night’, were the last words heard from missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 – moments before air traffic controllers lost all contact with the Boeing 777, which then seemingly vanished.
The calmness of the exchange between Malaysian air traffic controllers and the cockpit just before 1.20 am is in stark contrast to the air of intensifying confusion and increasingly contradictory statements coming from Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.
More than four days after the jet disappeared on a routine flight to Beijing, the nation’s authorities admitted they simply do not know which direction the plane and its 239 passengers were heading when it disappeared and they have no idea where exactly to look.
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Perplexed: Malaysia Navy chief, Admiral Abdul Aziz Jaafar (L), Malaysian Air Force Air Operation Commander, Lieutenant General Ackbal Abdul Samad (2-L), Malaysian Defense Minister, Hishamuddin Hussein Onn (2-R) and Malaysia Chief of Defense Force, General Zulkifeli Mohd Zin and Malaysian Defence Forces chief Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin before leaving for an aerial tour as part of a search and rescue mission
A military source has said the plane was tracked over the Strait of Malacca. Pictured are staff members at the rescue command office for the missing flight
Indeed, on Wednesday morning Malaysia’s air force chief denied saying military radar tracked a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner over the Strait of Malacca – an hour’s flight from the plane’s last contact with air traffic control and far from its flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Contradictions: The country’s air force chief, Gen. Rodzali Daud, released a statement denying remarks attributed to him in a local media report saying that military radar had managed to track the aircraft turning back from its original course
‘I wish to state that I did not make any such statements,’ Rodzali said in a statement on Wednesday.
The air force chief said he had merely repeated that military radar tracking suggested the plane might have turned back.
However, despite his denial, the search has been extended westwards and a senior military officer that the aircraft had made a detour to the west after communications with civilian authorities ended.
‘It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait,’ the officer said.
But a spokesman for the Malaysian prime minister’s office said on Wednesday he had not been informed by the military of evidence showing the plane had recrossed the Malay Peninsula to reach the Malacca Strait.
‘The people I checked with were not aware of that,’ spokesman Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad told Reuters.
The final conversation between between flight MH370 and Malaysian air traffic controllers took place just before they handed over to Vietnamese controllers in Ho Chi Minh city early on Saturday morning.
Search areas: A massive air and sea search now in its fifth day has failed to find any trace of the Boeing 777, and the last 24 hours have seen conflicting statements and reports over what may have happened after it lost contact with air traffic controllers
That seems to be the only fact that anyone can agree on in the deepening mystery as Malaysia’s civil and military aviation authorities seemed to indicate the plane may have turned back from its original route toward Vietnam, possibly as far as the Strait of Malacca on the eastern side of the country.
How it might have done this without being clearly detected remained a mystery, raising questions over whether its electrical systems were either knocked out or turned off – amid suggestions someone in the cockpit turned off its tracking device.
If it did manage to fly on, it would challenge earlier theories that the plane may have suffered a catastrophic incident, initially thought reasonable because it didn’t send out any distress signals.
And the air of confusion deepened on Wednesday when authorities said the hunt for the missing plane shifted further west.
Malaysian civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said ships and planes were now also searching in the southern part of the Andaman Sea.
International effort: Indonesian Air Force personnel aboard an Indonesian Air Force military surveillance aircraft on March 11 over the Malacca Strait, a passageway between Indonesia and Malaysia, searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
‘Yes, above Sumatra is the Andaman Sea,’ he told AFP, when asked to confirm whether assets were being deployed in the Andaman Sea. ‘It’s a very big area to cover… We are not going to leave any chance. We have to look at every possibility.’
It is possible that the radar readings are not definitive or subject to interpretation, especially if a plane is malfunctioning.
‘There is a possibility of an air turn back. We are still investigating and looking at the radar readings,’ said Azharuddin Abdul Rahman on Wednesday.
The Strait of Malacca that separates Malaysia from Indonesia’s Sumatra Island is some 250 miles from where the plane was last known to have made contact with ground control officials over the Gulf of Thailand at a height of 35,000 feet early on Saturday.
Adding to the confusion, Indonesia air force Col. Umar Fathur said the country had received official information from Malaysian authorities that the plane was above the South China Sea, about 10 nautical miles from Kota Bharu, Malaysia, when it turned back toward the strait and then disappeared.
That would place its last confirmed position closer to Malaysia than has previously been publicly disclosed.
Military officials inside a Soviet-made AN-26 of the Vietnam Air Force during the search and rescue operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight
Malaysia’s air force chief has denied saying military radar tracked a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner over the Strait of Malacca, adding to the mystery surrounding the fate of flight MH370, which vanished on Saturday with 239 people aboard
Fathur said Malaysian authorities have determined four blocks to be searched in the strait, which Indonesia was assisting in.
Vietnam continued to search for the plane on land and sea. In its area of responsibility, some 22 aircraft and 31 ships from several countries were involved, according to Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of Vietnamese People’s Army.
Experts said last night that if the
Malaysia Airlines aircraft’s transponder had been turned off, it would
make the plane invisible to the control tower’s radar.
In a comment that could be related to a problem in the cockpit – where Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, were at the controls – Malaysia police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said detectives were checking if any passengers or crew members had any psychological issues.
With theories abounding yesterday, from foul play to a catastrophic mechanical problem, CIA director John Brennan issued a rare public statement saying terrorism could not be ruled out.
The fruitless four-day search in the baffling and unprecedented disappearance of the 200-ton aircraft has resulted in frustrated relatives of the mostly Chinese passengers on the jet throwing bottles of water at Malaysian officials in Beijing as they refused to listen to ‘any more lies and excuses’.
Members of the Chinese emergency response team on ‘South China Sea Rescue 101′ carry out a search mission
The Chinese government urged the Malaysians to work harder at finding the jet – and sent, without invitation, three officials to Kuala Lumpur to establish what was being done behind the scenes.
IRANIAN PASSENGERS SOUGHT NEW LIFE IN WEST
The two men travelling on stolen passports on Flight MH370 were Iranians hoping to start a new life in the West.
Seyed Mohammed Reza Delavar, 29, and Pouria Nourmohammadi, 18, were on the third leg of their bid to seek asylum in Germany and Denmark.
Neither had a criminal record and they both left their home country legally, easing fears that the missing Malaysia Airlines flight was the target of a terrorist attack.
A police spokesman said investigators did not believe Pouria was a terrorist.
Embarrassed Malaysian officials insisted that everything humanly possible was being done and pointed to the fact that ships and planes from nine nations were involved in the search for the aircraft in the South China Sea, a 300-mile stretch of water between Malaysia and the southern tip of Vietnam.
The massive search began in the South China Sea on Saturday after the aircraft disappeared, but Malaysia’s military now says the jet changed course near Kota Bharu, on the north-east edge of the country, and took a lower altitude towards the west, flying across 150 miles of land to the Malacca Strait.
Aviation experts are divided on the military’s claim.
While some say the crew would have had plenty of time to alert air traffic control that they were changing course, others say a catastrophic and sudden event could have resulted in the pilot and others at the controls being rendered unconscious.
This could have left the aircraft flying on auto-pilot, resulting in it eventually running out of fuel and crashing.
WHAT COULD HAVE HAPPENED?
A mid-air explosion: The lack of debris could be explained by it falling into Malaysian jungle
A terrorist attack: Director of CIA has said terrorism could
not be ruled out
Power failure: Possibly caused by deliberate cutting of power to communication instruments
Electronic warfare: 20 passengers on board were experts in this technology.
Hijacking: Radar data indicates the plane might have made a U-turn.
A pilot error: There is a chance of them in all air mysteries, claim experts
Structural failure: Possibly involving damage sustained by an accident in 2012
Pilot suicide: There were two large jet crashes in the late 1990s caused by this
Aeronautical black hole: Plane is stranded hundreds of miles from current search area
A businessman and a fisherman living
in north-west Malaysia, close to the border with Thailand, have told of
seeing a bright light in the sky, lower than other aircraft using that
route, at about the same time that all data information from the jet
ceased in the early hours of Saturday.
the jet had turned back to the Straits of Malacca, as the military now
believe, its route would have taken it away from the South China Sea and
across jungle and farmland before reaching the Straits on the west side
of the country.
of Malacca is one of the busiest sea routes in the world and it is
astonishing that if the aircraft had gone down in that stretch of water,
that no ship has reported seeing it.
the search continued, police all but dismissed speculation that two
Iranian-born passengers who had boarded the flight with passports stolen
in Thailand were linked to terrorism.
Releasing photos of the two
passengers, Inspector Bakar said his detectives were working on four
areas of investigation – sabotage, hijack, a psychological issue with a
crew member or passenger, or a ‘historical problem’ with a crew member
about what he meant about psychological problems, the police chief said:
‘Maybe somebody on the flight has bought a huge sum of insurance, who
wants family to gain from it or somebody who has owed somebody so much
money . . . we are looking at all possibilities.’
He said his team were studying video
footage of the plane’s passengers in Kuala Lumpur airport, looking for
clues that one of them might have been behaving strangely.
A Malaysian Police officer holds photos of two suspects believed to be the two passengers with stolen passports on the missing flight
Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble said Iranian nationals Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 19, and Delavar Seyed Mohammadreza, 29, travelled to Malaysia on their Iranian passports before switching to the stolen Austrian and Italian documents
Police have identified one of the men as a 19-year-old Iranian who was believed to have been planning to enter Germany to seek asylum
A vessel is seen from a window of a flying Soviet-made AN-26 of the Vietnam Air Force during search and rescue operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight
A woman looks out a window inside a Soviet-made AN-26 of the Vietnam Air Force during the search and rescue operations
How legal black hole is holding back investigation into what happened to Flight MH370
Investigators looking into the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner face an extremely rare challenge that could hinder their efforts: they lack the powers of a formal air safety investigation.
Four days after Flight MH370 went missing in mid-air with 239 people on board, no nation has stepped forward to initiate and lead an official probe, leaving a formal leadership vacuum that industry experts say appears unprecedented.
Malaysian officials are conducting their own informal investigations, in cooperation with other governments and foreign agencies, but they lack the legal powers that would come with a formal international probe under U.N.-sanctioned rules.
Staff members work at the rescue command office for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370
Those powers include the legal rights to take testimony from all witnesses and other parties, the right to have exclusive control over the release of information and the ability to centralise a vast amount of fragmentary evidence.
A senior official familiar with the preliminary Malaysian probe told Reuters that Malaysian authorities could not yet convene a formal investigation due to a lack of evidence on where – namely, in which national jurisdiction – the Boeing 777-200ER jet crashed.
He said this was not hampering their work, that preliminary investigations had begun and that they were working with their neighbours, U.S. officials and the jet’s maker, Boeing.
The Malaysians have begun collecting information from neighbouring countries without any problems, including air-traffic control communications and radar data, he said.
But Southeast Asian waters are rife with territorial disputes, and any decision by Malaysia to unilaterally open a formal investigation under U.N. rules could be seen as a subtle assertion of sovereignty if the crash site turns out to be inside another country’s territory.
Without a formal investigative process being convened quickly under rules set out by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a U.N. agency, there is a risk that crucial early detective work could be hampered, and potential clues and records lost, air accident experts said.
Deputy commander of Vietnam Air Force Do Minh Tuan (third left) speaks during a news conference after their mission to find the missing flight
Witnesses such as cargo handlers, mechanics and company officials might be reluctant to speak to Malaysian investigators who were operating outside a formal ICAO-sanctioned probe which could offer them some protection from law suits, experts said.
‘The sole objective of an accident investigation is to prevent future accidents and not to apportion blame or liability,’ said aviation lawyer Simon Phippard of international legal firm Bird & Bird.
‘The international standards attempt to provide a degree of protection, for example from criminal prosecution, for individuals who give statements to the enquiry.’
The lack of a formal investigation also means Malaysia does not have exclusive control over the release of information or the ability to centralize fragmentary evidence such as wreckage parts and witness accounts, effectively relying for cooperation on other parties’ good-will, the experts said.
U.S. investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), FAA and Boeing arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Monday and, according to the official familiar with the Malaysian probe, have been talking with the Malaysian investigators.
An NTSB-led team, including the FAA
and Boeing officials, is ‘standing by for when the aircraft is located
and they are in touch with Malaysian officials and have offered our
assistance and support for anything they may need,’ NTSB spokeswoman
Kelly Nantel said.
Boeing and FAA declined to comment.
official familiar with the preliminary Malaysian investigation said the
Malaysian government could not launch a formal probe until the crash
site had been found, and that it planned to work closely with U.S.
authorities and Australia.
U.N. rules, if a plane crashes in international waters, the country
where the aircraft is registered – in this case, Malaysia – is in charge
of the investigation.
for example, Air France quickly took control of the official
investigation when its passenger jet crashed in waters far out into the
Atlantic Ocean in 2009, even though no wreckage had yet been found.
would have jurisdiction if the plane crashed in its territory, but it
does not have the resources to lead an investigation and would likely
have to get outside help, two regional aviation officials said.
Endless theories are swirling about
what became of Flight MH370. Here, GUY WALTERS offers answers to the
questions everyone’s asking…
1. How could there be reports from relatives that some of the passengers’ phones are still ringing?
the phones are ringing, that could mean they are on land and near a
mobile cell site. If that is the case, it seems bizarre nobody noticed
the plane land or crash.
experts doubt the phones are ringing. If you call someone whose phone
has no charge, it sounds as though the phone is ringing, before you go
through to the voicemail.
Vietnam air force Col. Duong Van Lanh looks at the navigation control panel aboard aircraft Antonov An-26 during a search mission for the missing Boeing 777
‘The phones definitely won’t be working,’ says Professor William Webb, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.
‘They will be underwater, out of coverage and by this time out of battery.’
2. One theory says the plane was escorted to a secret location by Vietnamese fighter jets. Could that happen?
Boeing 777 is a large aeroplane – 242ft long, with a 200ft wingspan.
It’s difficult for an aircraft of that size to land somewhere unusual
without people spotting it.
‘A 777 needs a runway that is a good 2,000m (2,180 yards) long,’ says Robin Durie, an experienced commercial pilot.
‘You don’t just land a plane like that in a clearing in the jungle.’
3. Why is the ‘black box’ not revealing the plane’s location?
black box, or flight data recorder, stores much of the information
about the flight, including the conversations of the pilots.
The boxes are almost indestructible, and resilient to impact and heat.
a plane has crashed, the black box transmits a homing beacon, but the
range is only 2,000 or 3,000 yards, and even less if it is deep
‘A device such
as a black box doesn’t make the aircraft safer,’ says Mr Durie. ‘They
just tell you where its wreckage is. But airlines are very reluctant to
add numerous pieces of technology, as they are expensive to buy and
recently been discussion within the industry about the possibility of
sending data from aircraft during their flights to a remote server,
thereby negating the need for a black box, but this is regarded as being
A U.S. Navy SH-60R Seahawk helicopter takes off from the destroyer USS Pinckney in the Gulf of Thailand, to assist in the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370
4. Why can no debris or wreckage be found? It seems inconceivable that an aircraft of this size could leave no trace.
find that very odd as well,’ says Mr Durie. ‘Aeroplanes are not just
made from metal, and there are lots of parts of them, such as seats and
luggage, that can float.
‘Even after the Air France crash over the Atlantic in June 2009, a whole piece of rudder was found on the water.’
Mr Durie also cites the example of the 2005 crash of Helios Airways
Flight 522, which flew on its own for almost three hours after the crew
members were incapacitated by a lack of oxygen. It crashed near Athens,
killing all on board.
With several hours of fuel, it is possible that MH370 crashed hundreds of miles away from its last known location.
5. Are there areas of the world where a plane can just ‘slip off the radar’?
Plenty. Tracts of Africa, much of the interior of Russia, jungles in Malaysia, for example.
airliners use transponders, which transmit a unique four-digit code
that is identified with the flight. It is these codes that are picked up
by air traffic controllers and used to locate the aircraft.
the transponder stops transmitting – either because it is turned off or
as the result of a sudden, catastrophic incident – then over many parts
of the globe, the plane would be invisible to air traffic controllers.
An Indonesian Navy pilot conducts an aerial search for the missing flight
6. Why was no distress signal sent?
you have some form of emergency, then the first thing the pilot does is
to change the transponder code,’ says Mr Durie. ‘If you change your
code to 7500, that means you have been hijacked.
‘Back at Air Traffic Control, a big red box appears around your flight, and people take notice very quickly.’
In the event of a serious malfunction, the code changes to 7600, and in a Mayday situation, to 7700.
Changing the code is as quick as entering your PIN on a cash machine.
fact that the transponder code didn’t change suggests to me that
whatever happened, happened really quickly,’ says Mr Durie. ‘This might
mean an explosion.’
pilot on another aircraft claims to have made contact with MH370
shortly before it went missing – but all he heard was mumbling. What
could this mean?
pilots have frequencies that we use to chat on,’ says Mr Durie. ‘Often
this is company traffic, when crew from the same carrier are simply
talking to each other.
‘Technically, it’s not legal, but the practice is widespread and many pilots tune into the easy-to-remember VHF band of 123.45.’
another pilot heard some mumbling, it is possible that it was chat
coming from another pilot on the same frequency. However, it could have
been a crew member from MH370.
mumbling suggests to me that the pilot was passing out from a lack of
oxygen,’ says Mr Durie, ‘which could mean that the aircraft had suffered
an explosive decompression, such as a window popping out, or a small
hole appearing in the fuselage.’
Vigil: Chinese students hold candles while praying for the passengers aboard the missing Boeing 777
8. Would it be possible for a deranged or psychotic passenger to seize control and cause a disaster?
door to the cockpit is locked, and can be opened only from the inside.
However, large airliners carry an axe in a secret location in one of the
A fanatic who
found the axe could break into the cockpit, but it is unlikely the axe
could be found without the knowledge of the cabin crew.
9. Could the pilot have hijacked or deliberately crashed the aircraft?
have been known to hijack their own planes. One theory behind the crash
of EgyptAir Flight 990 into the Atlantic in 1999 is that the Relief
First Officer wanted to commit suicide.
‘A pilot can turn off his transponder, thereby making his plane invisible to Air Traffic Control,’ says Mr Durie.
if he takes control of the cockpit, he can fly where he wants – either
somewhere to seek asylum, or horribly, to kill himself and all on
Mystery: An aerial view of what is believed to be an oil slick taken from a Vietnamese Air Force plane during search and rescue operations
10. Reports suggest
that radar showed the aircraft descending rapidly and possibly turning
before it disappeared. Can a pilot simply turn around in the event of
pilots are not permitted to simply turn their aircraft around. The globe
is criss-crossed with air routes, which are like motorways, and are
strictly policed by Air Traffic Control.
in the event of an emergency, a pilot is entitled to change direction,
especially if he is losing altitude and threatening to cross through
other routes beneath him.
Durie said: ‘The usual procedure is to turn 90 degrees, and to get out
of the airway – almost like pulling on to the hard shoulder – and to
inform Air Traffic Control that you are in jeopardy.’
10. If the flight was downed by an explosion, why wasn’t it captured on film by a US satellite?
Not even the United States has the capability to record what happens everywhere in the world all the time.
If the plane did explode, then it is perfectly possible that the event would not have been captured by satellite.