Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: US pushes search towards vast expanse of the Indian Ocean

Officials insist aircraft kept 'pinging' for several hours after last-known location

The search for missing Flight MH370 is being pushed westwards towards the Indian Ocean amid further suggestions the plane may have flown for several hours after its last-known location.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said in Washington that new information meant the area being searched was being extended yet again. He said the US was consulting with Malaysia about what resources to direct to the area.

India is also involved in the search operation, having been asked by Malaysia to search 22 specific locations in the Andaman Sea. India has estimated the initial search of the locations will take three days.

“They gave us a list of coordinates, from A to V. There were a lot of coordinates,” Syed Akbaruddin, a spokesman for India’s foreign ministry, told The Independent. “It’s a vast area they have asked us to look at.”

The decision to extend the search westwards towards the vastness of the Indian Ocean would fit with theories reportedly being pursued by US investigators that the plane flew for four more hours after its last-known location, which was fixed at 1.31am on Saturday morning. At that point it was heading north-east across the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand on what should have been a six-hour flight to Beijing.

The Wall Street Journal reported that US investigators believed the plane may have been intentionally diverted from its plotted course and the jet’s transponders were intentionally turned off to avoid radar detection. This reopened speculation that the plane may have been hijacked or that one of the pilots may have taken the dramatic course of action.

 

The paper initially reported that the findings were based on data sent automatically from the plane’s twin Rolls Royce engines. That now appears not to the the case. Rather several reports have said the information that was sent out came from the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS).

The “pings” sent by the plane provided information about the speed at which it was travelling and its altitude but not its precise location. The last ping was apparently sent when the plane was above water.  ABC News reported that Pentagon officials believed there was an indication that the plane had crashed into the ocean.

Mr Carney, the White House spokesman, did not specify the information that the US had received and that was pushing the search westwards.

“It’s my understanding that based on some new information that’s not necessarily conclusive - but new information - an additional search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean,” he said. “There are a number of possible scenarios that are being investigated as to what happened to the flight. And we are not in a position at this time to make conclusions about what happened.”

He added: “We’re looking at information, pursuing possible leads, working within the investigation being led by the Malaysian government.”

On Thursday, Malaysia’s Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, rejected the report in the Wall Street Journal. He said experts from both Boeing and Rolls Royce were assisting the investigation and that the last transmission received from the engines was at 1.07am on Saturday. It had suggested everything was normal.

“Rolls Royce and Boeing teams are here in Kuala Lumpur and have worked with Malaysia Airlines investigation teams since Sunday,” he said. “This issue has never been raised. Since today’s media reports Malaysia Airlines has asked Rolls Royce and Boeing specifically about the data. As far as Rolls Royce and Boeing are concerned those reports are inaccurate.”

Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya also denied that the ACARS system continued to function after the plane disappeared from civilian radar. The last transmission came 26 minutes after its takeoff from Kuala Lumpur, he said.

“The last transmission was received at 1.07,” Mr Ahmad told reporters. “It said everything is operating normally. As far as the ACARS data, that was the last transmission.”

Seven days after it disappeared with 239 passengers and crew, not a single trace of the Malaysian Airlines plane had been found. For the relatives of those board the absence of hard information has been desperately hard to bear.

Ships and aircraft are now combing an area of more than 27,000 square miles that had already been widened to cover both sides of the Malay Peninsula and the Andaman Sea. The US Navy is sending an advanced P-8A Poseidon plane to help search the Strait of Malacca, separating the Malay Peninsula from the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It had already deployed a Navy P-3 Orion aircraft to those waters.

US officials told Reuters that the US Navy guided-missile destroyer, USS Kidd, was heading to the Strait of Malacca, answering a request from the Malaysian government. The Kidd had been searching the areas south of the Gulf of Thailand, along with the destroyer USS Pinckney.

India has already began sorties close to the Nicobar Islands. It has deployed three ships and three aircraft. More could be deployed depending on how the search continues.

In a statement issued on Friday morning, Malaysia Airlines said it was “fully aware” of ongoing media reports. It said it had nothing further to add to information already provided.

“Our primary focus at this point in time is to care for the families of the passengers and crew of MH370. This means providing them with timely information, travel facilities, accommodation, meals, medical and emotional support,” it said.

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