Wednesday 22 October 2014

Malaysia Airlines jetliner flew into Indian Ocean, investigators now believe

* Search area roughly two-thirds size of United States
* Countries may be unwilling to share militarily sensitive radar data
* Electrical fire theories believed unlikely
* Background checks find no militant or criminal links

Anshuman Daga and Tim Hepher

Published 19/03/2014 | 06:44

A boy comforts a crying girl during a special prayer in central Kuala Lumpur for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370
A boy comforts a crying girl during a special prayer in central Kuala Lumpur for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370
An instructor from the Tianjiao Special Guard/Security Consultant bodyguard training camp uses a scarf to cover a student's head as trainees watch him demonstrate close-quarter combat skills during a special course on flight safety inside a scale model of a passenger jet at a flight attendant training centre on the outskirts of Beijing. Inspired by the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the company wanted to emphasize the importance of aviation safety by teaching trainees emergency evacuation procedures and close-quarter combat skills to handle situations such as natural disasters and plane hijacks, according to the company. Photo: Reuters
An instructor from the Tianjiao Special Guard/Security Consultant bodyguard training camp uses a scarf to cover a student's head as trainees watch him demonstrate close-quarter combat skills during a special course on flight safety inside a scale model of a passenger jet at a flight attendant training centre on the outskirts of Beijing. Inspired by the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the company wanted to emphasize the importance of aviation safety by teaching trainees emergency evacuation procedures and close-quarter combat skills to handle situations such as natural disasters and plane hijacks, according to the company. Photo: Reuters
A screen on board Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER flight MH318 shows the plane's flight path as it cruises over the South China Sea from Kuala Lumpur towards Beijing, at approximately the same point when on March 8 flight MH370 lost contact with air traffic controllers, at approximately 1.30am March 17, 2014. Malaysia Airlines flight number MH318 replaces the flight number of the missing airplane, MH370, that was retired as a mark of respect to the passengers and crew while the flight route remains unchanged. Reuters photographer Edgar Su boarded the flight in Kuala Lumpur on March 17 and documented the journey to Beijing. This is picture number 16 of 23 in this series. REUTERS/Edgar Su (TRANSPORT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
A screen on board Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER flight MH318 shows the plane's flight path as it cruises over the South China Sea from Kuala Lumpur towards Beijing, at approximately the same point when on March 8 flight MH370 lost contact with air traffic controllers, at approximately 1.30am March 17, 2014. Malaysia Airlines flight number MH318 replaces the flight number of the missing airplane, MH370, that was retired as a mark of respect to the passengers and crew while the flight route remains unchanged. Reuters photographer Edgar Su boarded the flight in Kuala Lumpur on March 17 and documented the journey to Beijing. This is picture number 16 of 23 in this series. REUTERS/Edgar Su (TRANSPORT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Investigators probing the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner with 239 people on board believe it most likely flew into the southern Indian Ocean, a source close to the investigation said today.

No wreckage has been found from Flight MH370, which vanished from air traffic control screens off Malaysia's east coast at 1:21 a.m. local time on March 8 (1721 GMT March 7), less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing.

An unprecedented search for the Boeing 777-200ER is under way involving 26 nations in two vast search "corridors": one arcing north overland from Laos towards the Caspian Sea, the other curving south across the Indian Ocean from west of Indonesia's Sumatra island to west of Australia.

"The working assumption is that it went south, and furthermore that it went to the southern end of that corridor," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The view is based on the lack of any evidence from countries along the northern corridor that the plane entered their airspace, and the failure to find any trace of wreckage in searches in the upper part of the southern corridor.

China, which is leading the northern corridor search with Kazakhstan, said it had not yet found any sign of the aircraft crossing into its territory.

Malaysian and U.S. officials believe the aircraft was deliberately diverted perhaps thousands of miles off course, but an exhaustive background search of the passengers and crew aboard has not yielded anything that might explain why.

 

SOPHISTICATED EQUIPMENT

The minister in charge of the operation said the multinational search team was deploying the most sophisticated equipment available to find the plane.

"It probably is the largest peacetime armada of assets and satellite information-sharing that we have ever seen for a rescue and search operation," Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.

Officials believe that someone with detailed knowledge of both the Boeing 777 and commercial aviation navigation switched off two vital datalinks: the ACARS system, which relays maintenance data back to the ground, and the transponder, which enables the plane to be seen by civilian radar.

The source close to the investigation said that it was thought "highly probable that ACARS was switched off prior to the final verbal message" received for the cockpit.

That message, an informal "all right, good night" radioed to Malaysian air traffic controllers to acknowledge their handover of the plane to Vietnamese airspace, was believed to have been spoken by the co-pilot, the airline said earlier this week.

Investigators piecing together patchy data from military radar and satellites believe that minutes later the plane turned sharply west, re-crossing the Malay Peninsula and following an established commercial route towards India.

After that, ephemeral pings picked up by one commercial satellite suggest the aircraft flew on for at least six hours. The data from the satellite placed the plane somewhere in one of the two corridors when the final signal was sent at 8:11 a.m.

The methodical shutdown of the communications systems, together with the fact that the plane appeared to be following a planned course after turning back, have been interpreted as suggesting strongly that foul play, rather than some kind of technical failure, was behind the disappearance.

 

NEVER FOUND?

Last week, a source familiar with official U.S. assessments said it was thought most likely the plane flew south, where it presumably would have run out of fuel and crashed into the sea.

If it did indeed end up in the southern Indian Ocean, one of the remotest places on Earth and also one of the deepest seas, it increases the chance it may never be found - and investigators may never know for sure what happened on board.

U.S. government sources said intelligence agencies had extensively analysed people on the flight but came up with no connections to terrorism or possible criminal motives.

A senior U.S. official said he was "not aware of any stones left unturned". China has said there is no evidence that Chinese passengers, who made up over two-thirds of those on board, were involved in a hijack or act of sabotage.

Australia is leading the search of the southern part of the southern corridor, with assistance from the U.S. Navy.

It has shrunk its search field based on satellite tracking data and analysis of weather and currents, but it still covers an area of 600,000 sq km (230,000 sq miles), roughly the size of Spain and Portugal.

The U.S. Navy said it had switched mainly to using P-8A Poseidon and P-3 Orion aircraft to search for the missing plane instead of ships and helicopters.

"The maritime patrol aircraft are much more suited for this type of operation," said Navy Lieutenant David Levy, who is on board the USS Blue Ridge. "...It's just a much more efficient way to search."

Reuters

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