Australia searches one of world's harshest places

Norwegian ship reaches area of suspected Malaysian plane debris; Two potential bits of missing flight wreckage found; Malaysia says satellite images a "credible lead"

LATEST UPDATE: The search for flight MH370 is taking place over one of the most harsh and isolated points on the planet, in a patch of southern Indian Ocean from where Antarctica beckons.

Australian-led efforts to find the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, which vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board, are concentrated on a stretch of water 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth.

It is little traversed by maritime traffic, and when alerts went out to merchant shipping in the area on Tuesday, the nearest vessel was two day's journey away.
It is also windy, lashed by huge waves.

"Very harsh conditions, once you get there the influence of Antarctica... starts to come clearly on the ocean," said Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at Sydney's University of New South Wales.

Van Sebille, who was on a research ship in the area in December, said even in calm conditions the place was challenging and with the southern hemisphere's autumn approaching, it was set to deteriorate.

"It's not an area where you would like to be for a very long time, to spend weeks searching for a plane," he told AFP.

"The place couldn't have been worse, but also the timing couldn't have been worse. Had it been a few months earlier, the seas are much calmer, much easier to work in."

Nathan Bindoff, professor of physical oceanography at the University of Tasmania, said: "The Indian Ocean sector is a region that has strong winds and big waves.

"It is the windiest sector of the southern ocean."

Bindoff said vessels typically saw only one other ship on a 50-day voyage in the area, and then most likely closer to Antarctica and its research bases than the area where the potential wreckage was spotted.

"In some ways there are more eyes near Antarctica than there are in this part of the southern ocean," he said.

'A lonely, lonely place'

The strength of the currents could also hamper efforts to find any wreckage, the oceanographers said, with satellite imagery of the potential debris showing the objects awash, bobbing in the sea where waves can be towering.

"So you have very, very strong winds there, quite high waves. You've got among the strongest currents in the world," said van Sebille.

He said any wreckage from the plane could already be 1,000 kilometres from where the jet hit the water, making the job of backtracking to the crash site from the debris sighting even more difficult.

The search for MH370 has been compared to that of an Air France jet that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 with the loss of 228 lives.

But the head of the investigation into that accident, Alain Bouillard, has reportedly said this search is much more difficult given that French officials knew the precise location of AF447 four minutes before impact.

Australian authorities have cautioned against presuming the objects in the water belong to the missing Malaysian plane.

"It could just be a container that has fallen off a ship, we just don't know," Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Friday.

However, Van Sebille said there was rarely too much debris in the area of this search.

"It's a pretty pristine part of the ocean which indeed means that if this is debris... it's highly likely either from the plane or it comes from some ship in the ocean itself, and there's not a lot of shipping going on," he said.   

"It's really off the beaten track," agreed Tim Huxley, chief executive of Wah Kwong Maritime Transport Holdings in Hong Kong of the search zone. "It's a lonely, lonely place down there."

 

Australia says definite findings on plane's debris in 2-3 days

Australia expects to make a quick deliberation on whether possible debris seen at sea is indeed from flight MH370, a report said Thursday, but a first spotter flight failed to locate anything in bad weather.

Authorities should know something definite on the possible discovery of debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane within "two or three days", the Australian Associated Press quoted Defence Minister David Johnston as saying in Jakarta.

But a Royal Australian Air Force Orion sent on Thursday to investigate possible wreckage from the Boeing 777 failed to spot debris, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said.

The P-3 surveillance aircraft was sent to the Indian Ocean search zone some 2,500km southwest of Perth after Australia revealed the presence of two objects at sea possibly related to flight MH370.

"RAAF P3 crew unable to locate debris. Cloud & rain limited visibility," AMSA said on its Twitter feed. "Further aircraft to continue search for #MH370."

Three more long-range surveillance planes -- one each from Australia, New Zealand and the United States -- were due to inspect the area where satellite images taken Sunday showed the two objects, one as large as 24 metres (79 feet) in size.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament the images represented "new and credible information" but stressed that any link with flight MH370 had still to be confirmed. Malaysia also said the information offered a "credible lead", but stressed it was too early to tell.

This "requires us overnight to verify and corroborate it", Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, adding that the overall search and rescue effort would continue in the meantime.

Currently, there are 18 ships, 29 aircraft and six ship-borne helicopters deployed in the search along two corridors stretching from the southern Indian Ocean to Central Asia.

Norwegian ship reaches area of suspected Malaysian plane debris

A Norwegian ship on Thursday reached the Indian Ocean area where possible debris of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane was spotted, shipping company Hoeeg Autoliners said.

"The ship has arrived at the site to take part in the search," said Cecilie Moe, spokeswoman for the Norwegian company.

According to another Hooeg Autoliners spokesperson, Christian Dahll, the search window for Thursday was limited since sunset was at 1300 GMT.

The "St. Petersburg" vessel, a vehicles carrier, was on its way from Port Louis in Mauritius to the Australian city of Melbourne, when it was requested by the Australian authorities to reroute in order to identify the debris spotted by satellite in the southern Indian Ocean.

After two weeks of false leads, Australia revived the investigation on the mysterious disappearance of flight MH370 when it announced the detection of two "objects" in the southern Indian Ocean, some 2,500km southwest of Perth in western Australia.

Satellite images a "credible lead"

Malaysia said on Thursday that two objects spotted by a satellite in the Indian Ocean were a "credible lead" in the search for a missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet.

"We now have a credible lead," Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

This "requires us overnight to verify and corroborate it," Hishammuddin said, adding that the overall search and rescue effort for Flight 370 would continue in the meantime.

Currently, there are 18 ships, 29 aircraft and six ship-borne helicopters deployed in the search along two corridors stretching from the southern Indian Ocean to South and Central Asia.

"Until we are certain that we have located MH370, search and rescue operations will continue in both corridors," Hishammuddin said.

"For families around the world, the one piece of information they want most is the information we just don't have: the location of MH370," he added.

EARLIER REPORT
Two objects possibly related to the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have been sighted, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Thursday in a potential breakthrough.

Abbott told parliament "new and credible information" had come to light nearly two weeks after the plane vanished.

Image courtesy Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA)

He said an Australian air force Orion had already been diverted to look into the objects with three more surveillance planes to follow. He did not specify where they were but Australia has taken charge of the search in the southern Indian Ocean.

"The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has received information based on satellite information of objects possibly related to the search," Abbott said, adding that he had informed Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

"Following specialist analysis of this satellite imagery, two possible objects related to the search have been identified."

But he warned against drawing any premature conclusions.

"We must keep in mind the task of locating these objects will be extremely difficult and it may turn out that they are not related to the search for flight MH370," he said.

AMSA was due to hold a news conference with more details at 0430 GMT.

Authorities in Kuala Lumpur on Monday asked Canberra to take responsibility for the "southern vector" of the operation to locate the Boeing 777, which disappeared on March 8 en route to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board.

The Malaysian government believes the jet was deliberately diverted and flew for several hours after leaving its scheduled flight path -- either north towards Central Asia, or towards the southern Indian Ocean.

Australian, US and New Zealand long-range surveillance planes have been scouring a vast tract of the southern Indian Ocean since Tuesday with the search focused on an area of 305,000 square kilometres (122,000 square miles), some 2,600 kilometres southeast of Perth.
 

FBI help sought

President Barack Obama designated the search for a missing Malaysian passenger jet a "top priority" for the United States as Malaysia shared evidence with the FBI and sought Thursday to pacify relatives' anger at the lack of progress.

Nearly two weeks after Malaysia Airlines flight 370 vanished with 239 passengers and crew on board, no concrete evidence has been uncovered to confirm what happened, who was responsible or -- most importantly -- where the aircraft ended up.

In his first on-camera comments on the mystery, Obama, who is due to visit Malaysia next month, offered thoughts and prayers to the anguished relatives of the missing passengers.

"I want them to be assured that we consider this a top priority," he said in a television interview at the White House.

Nearly two-thirds of those on board the Beijing-bound flight were Chinese, and there were chaotic, emotional scenes Wednesday when a handful of tearful Chinese relatives tried to gatecrash Malaysia's tightly controlled daily media briefing at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur airport.

Shouting and crying, the relatives unfurled a protest banner reading "Give us back our families", and accused the Malaysian authorities of withholding information and doing too little to find the plane.

Obama stressed there had been "close cooperation" with the Malaysian government and added that the United States had put "every resource that we have available" at the disposal of the search process.

There were three US nationals, including an infant, on board.

Data deleted

A US official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity said Malaysia had asked the FBI to help recover data deleted from a flight simulator in the home of the missing plane's chief pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

Malaysian police removed the simulator from Zaharie's home on Saturday, after investigators said they believed the Boeing 777 had been deliberately diverted from its intended route by someone on board.

The New York Times quoted a senior US law enforcement official as saying FBI agents in Kuala Lumpur would likely make copies of the simulator's hard drive and send the contents back to analysts in the United States who specialise in retrieval of deleted computer data.

"Right now, it's the best chance we have of finding something," that official said.

Zaharie, a 33-year veteran of the airline, was highly regarded by his peers. But suspicion has clouded him since investigators concluded the plane's communication systems were likely disabled manually and the aircraft diverted by a skilled aviator.

Background checks on the plane's 227 passengers have so far failed to uncover any relevant information.

In the days immediately after the jet vanished, FBI agents were reportedly kept at arm's length by Malaysian authorities.

But with the search area now encompassing vast tracts of land and sea equivalent to the entire land mass of Australia, Malaysia has sought the help of more than two dozen countries.

Australia said Wednesday that the search corridor in the southern Indian Ocean had been "significantly refined" following closer analysis of flight MH370's fuel reserves, and the Indian Navy said it had been given fresh search coordinates.

Screaming relatives

There was a noticeably tighter security presence at the airport hotel where Wednesday's protest by angry Chinese relatives played out in front of the gathered international media.

Several police officers guarded the entrance to the Sama Sama Hotel and new barriers were erected restricting access to the area around the briefing room.

One hotel official told AFP that police had briefed hotel security on preventing "suspicious people" from entering.

Wednesday's ugly scenes of screaming women being forcibly carried from the briefing room only compounded the pressure on the Malaysian authorities, who argue they are doing everything possible to resolve one of the biggest mysteries of the modern aviation era.

"I fully understand what they're going through. Emotions are high," said the minister of defence and transport, Hishammuddin Hussein.

He added that a "high-level" Malaysian team also would be sent to Beijing to deal with increasingly agitated relatives there.

The clock is ticking down on the 30 days during which the aircraft black box will transmit a signal.

The search has been hampered by the reluctance of some countries to share sensitive radar and satellite data, and to allow surveillance planes into their airspace.

Peter Weeks, whose brother Paul, 39, was on the plane, said there had been no official communication from any government figures in Malaysia.

"The information we get is no better than what is in the media," he told CNN.

"You spend 24 hours a day thinking about it really; every waking moment and even the few moments of sleep you get.

"There's no solid information about anything," he said.

 

Loss of Malaysia plane spurs calls to upload black box data to the 'cloud'

The disappearance of a Malaysian plane has prompted calls for in-flight streaming of black box data over remote areas, but industry executives say implementing changes may be complex and costly.

Mark Rosenker, former chairman of the US National Transportation Safety Board, said this incident and the 2009 loss of an Air France flight in the Atlantic should spur reforms in what he described an outdated accident investigation process.

Rosenker, a retired US Air Force general, said finding a way to transmit limited information from flight data and cockpit voice recorders to a virtual "cloud" database would help authorities launch accident investigations sooner and locate a plane if it got into trouble while out of reach of ground-based radars.

"This is the second accident in five years where we've had to wait to get the black boxes back," Rosenker said. "We need to bring the concept of operations for accident investigations and the technology of what is available up to the 21st century."

Twenty-six nations have been searching for the missing  Boeing Co 777 airliner over an area roughly the size of Australia for 12 days, but the massive hunt has found no trace of any wreckage thus far.

Mary Kirby, editor of the aviation industry website Runway Girl Network, said airlines could use the growing number of broadband connections that allow passengers to access the Internet and download movies to provide real-time GPS data for just such emergencies.

"Airlines realize that this is the cost of doing business," she said. "It is inexplicable to be bringing these big fat connectivity pipes to aircraft and yet to be in a situation in 2014 where you can lose a plane."

Costly, challlenging change


Aviation experts and industry executives say it should be technically possible to stream flight recorder data to a database or a virtual "cloud," but warned about broadband constraints and the high cost of equipping older airliners with new electronic equipment.

They say new satellite-based air traffic management systems being implemented in the United States, Asia and Europe in coming years will make it easier to track airplanes and monitor aircraft systems in flight, but note it will take a decade or more before the systems are commonplace worldwide.

Streaming the huge amounts of data now collected by flight data recorders may also pose technical challenges, while transmission of cockpit voice recordings could raise privacy concerns, said analyst Richard Aboulafia with the Teal Group.

Rosenker, the former NTSB chief, said investigators could agree on a much smaller subset of key data to transmit, which would save bandwidth and cost. The data could even be sent at intervals instead of continuously streamed, he said.

Most airplanes already have systems known as Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) that periodically report, either via VHF radio or satellite, on the performance of the aircraft and its engines, which could provide another possibility for getting data to investigators.

One industry executive said he fully expected reforms after this incident, but said airlines were more likely to increase the amount of data they were receiving from the existing ACARS system rather than opting to stream flight data.

"It would just be too costly. There are 93,000 flights a day, and we've had two incidents like this in four or five years," said the executive, who was not authorized to speak publicly since the search for the plane continues.

Bob Benzon, a former Air Force pilot and NTSB investigator, said it could potentially cost billions of dollars to allow every plane in the world to stream flight data, but mounting frustration over the failure to find any trace of Flight MH370 could well galvanize the aviation community into some action.

He said other potentially cheaper proposals included outfitting planes with floating locator or data recorder beacons that would automatically deploy if an airplane crashed.

"There's a tombstone mentality at times. You actually have to have a very tragic event to get things done," Benzon said. "I predict that this is one of those events unfortunately."

Some US military airplanes, including the Air Force's massive C-5 cargo planes, already have floating data recorders since they often fly over large spans of ocean.

The NTSB has recommended mandatory video recordings in the cockpit of commercial airliners, but has never recommended live-streaming or regular transmission of flight data.

Discussion about mandating regular transmissions from airliner black boxes increased after Air France Flight AF447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, its location and black boxes remaining a mystery until 22 months later.

Moving black box to cloud

This time, investigators are beginning to think the plane may never be found, given the dearth of clues thus far.

Oliver McGee, a professor of mechanical engineering at Howard University and former senior U.S. Transportation Department official, said advances in technology made this an ideal time to change current procedures.

"It's time to move the black box to 'the cloud' at least for essential limited flight recorder data for long flights over (areas) like the Indian Ocean, or other remote areas across large land masses like across the Brazilian Amazon," he said.

Victoria Day, spokeswoman for Airlines for America, which represents major U.S. carriers, said it was "premature for us to speculate about potential changes to safety and security procedures."

Officials at Delta Air Lines, United and American Airlines also declined comment on the Malaysia Airlines case, and any consequences for the industry.

In the past, airlines have argued that such accidents are too rare to justify the added expense of streaming flight recorder data, but Rosenker said the cost needed to be weighed against the cost of the current search.

"Look at what's happening now. We've lost a 777 and over 200 people. Navies and airplanes from around the world are searching for this plane. That's not cheap either," he said.

Search appears deadlocked

Chinese relatives' anger over sparse information on the fate of their loved ones on board a missing Malaysian airliner sparked chaotic scenes on Wednesday at the headquarters of an increasingly deadlocked search operation.

Malaysia's transport minister ordered an inquiry after  security guards carried out the distraught mother of a passenger on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 from a briefing room where she had protested about a lack of transparency, 12 days after the plane vanished.

"They are just saying wait for information. Wait for information. We don't know how long we have to wait," cried the woman before being whisked away from a massive media scrum.

Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he regretted the anguish."Malaysia is doing everything in its power to find MH370 and hopefully bring some degree of closure for those whose family members are missing," he said in a statement.

Prospects that a 26-nation operation would lead to quick results appeared to be dwindling, however, as investigators confirmed they were focusing on the remote southern Indian Ocean after failing to find any traces of the jet further north.

"Our top priority is being given to that area," Hishammuddin told the news conference, confirming an earlier Reuters report.

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 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 a source close to the investigation.

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.

Some sources involved in the investigation have voiced fears it could be drifting towards deadlock due to the reluctance of countries in the region to share militarily sensitive radar data that might shed new light on the direction the jet took.

Two people familiar with the probe said the search had been hampered in some cases by delays over the paperwork needed to allow foreign maritime surveillance aircraft into territorial waters without a formal diplomatic request.

"These are basically spy planes; that's what they were designed for," said one source close to the investigation, explaining the hesitance of some nations to give blanket permission for other countries to scour their waters.

Hishammuddin confirmed that some assets that could be involved in the search were waiting for diplomatic clearance.

"The search for MH370 involves diplomatic, technical and logistical challenges," he told the news conference, held in a Kuala Lumpur airport hotel that has served as a temporary crisis coordination centre and a base for dozens of news organizations.

Malaysia has come under the spotlight for its handling of the crisis, but insists it is directing smoothly what it believes to be the largest peacetime search and rescue effort.

China has called on Malaysia to speed up and expand the search operations during an episode that has tested relations between the peninsular nation and Asia's largest power.

NEVER FOUND?

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.

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.

Hishammuddin said the difficulty of searching such a huge expanse of ocean made the operation in the southern corridor "much more challenging".

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.

Hishammuddin said the latest in a series of reported possible sightings of the plane, this time over the Maldives, had been investigated and had been determined to be untrue.

FLIGHT SIMULATOR DATA DELETED


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.

Police have searched the homes of the 53-year-old pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27. Among the items taken were a flight simulator Zaharie had built in his home.

Malaysia's police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, said an examination of the flight simulator showed its data log had been cleared on Feb. 3. "The experts are looking at what are the logs that have been cleared," he told the news conference.

U.S. and other security services have analysed passengers  but have come up with no connections to terrorism or possible criminal motives, two sources close to the investigation said.

Malaysian officials said all countries whose citizens were on the jet had run background checks except Ukraine and Russia.
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.

Because of its size, scale of human loss and sheer uncertainty over what happened, the airliner looks set to establish itself as one of the most baffling transportation incidents of all time.

A breakthrough is still possible, experts say. Wreckage could be found, although the more time elapses since the aircraft's disappearance, the more it will be scattered.

"It's a mystery and it may remain a mystery," said Elizabeth Quintalla of the Royal United Services Institute in London.

EARLIER REPORT:

'Data deleted' from pilot's simulator

Data was deleted from the home flight simulator used by the pilot of missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 and investigators are working to recover it, a Malaysian official said on Wednesday.

In a daily press briefing, Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia's minister of transport and defence, also said background checks on all but three of the 239 passengers and crew on board the plane had produced no "information of significance".

MH370 went missing early on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew, spawning a massive international search across Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean.

Police had removed the simulator from Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah's home last Saturday, after it became clear that the aircraft had likely been deliberately diverted by someone on board.

"Some data had been deleted from the simulator and forensic work to retrieve this data is ongoing," Hishammuddin said, stressing that no evidence had been found implicating Zaharie in any wrongdoing.

The minister also announced that Malaysia had received the results of passenger background checks from all countries with citizens on board -- apart from Ukraine and Russia.

"So far no information of significance on any passengers has been found." he said.

There were two Ukrainians and one Russian on the plane.

Why did passengers not use mobiles? New clues

In the age of smartphones and social media, one question surrounding the disappearance of the Malaysian airliner is why none of the passengers tried to contact relatives.

Even the absence of phone calls or emails from those on board the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 could provide clues for investigators struggling to solve one of the greatest mysteries of modern aviation. It may indicate that the plane was flying too high or was over water, or that the passengers were unconscious, possibly due to a change in cabin pressure.

Experts say the chances of the 239 people on board Flight 370 being able to use their mobile devices would have been better the closer they were to a mobile network on the ground.

Missing Malaysian plane assumed in southern Indian Ocean: source

Investigators examining the March 8 disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines plane with 239 people aboard believe it most likely that the plane flew into the southern Indian Ocean, a source close to the investigation said on Wednesday.
"The working assumption is that it went south, and furthermore that it went to the southern end of that corridor," said the source, referring to a search area stretching from west of Indonesia to the Indian Ocean west of Australia.

Sightings

Police in the Maldives are probing reports that islanders in the tourism paradise saw a "low-flying jumbo jet" on the day the missing Malaysia Airlines plane vanished.

In a statement released late Tuesday, police said they were investigating a report on the Haveeru news website that local residents had spotted a large plane flying over the remote southern island of Kuda Huvadhoo on March 8.

"The police are looking into the reports in the media saying that a low-flying airplane was sighted above Kuda Huvadhoo," the statement said.

Indian techie's radar claim

India has blown hot and then cold in the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight, with one of the suspected corridors of the diverted plane’s flight path said to be the southern Indian ocean.

Media reports have now emerged that an Indian IT analyst, Anoop Madhav Yeggina taking part in the crowd sourcing search for the missing plane – involving millions of people – claimed to have seen a radar image of a plane flying very low above the Andaman Islands.

Yeggina was looking through innumerable images of DigitalGlobe Satellite QB02 when he stumbled upon the image.

He has since uploaded his “discovery” along with a write-up on the CNN website.

However, at least one website has reported that scientists have debunked Yeggina’s claim.

News site 3news reported that the image which Yeggina claims shows a plane the colour and size of a Boeing 777 that appeared to be flying low to the ground not far from an airstrip controlled by the Indian Navy was outdated.

The image he had used was from a base layer of the map, which dated back to at least 2012. This was confirmed on Twitter by Mapbox Chief Scientist Bruno Sánchez-Andrade Nuño.

Military radar

Thailand's military said Tuesday that its radar detected a plane that may have been Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 just minutes after the jetliner's communications went down, and that it didn't share the information with Malaysia earlier because it wasn't specifically asked for it.

A twisting flight path described Tuesday by Thai air force spokesman Air Vice Marshal Montol Suchookorn took the plane to the Strait of Malacca, which is where Malaysian radar tracked Flight 370 early March 8. But Montol said the Thai military doesn't know whether it detected the same plane.

Thailand's failure to quickly share possible information regarding the fate of the plane, and the 239 people aboard it, may not substantially change what Malaysian officials know, but it raises questions about the degree to which some countries are sharing their defense information, even in the name of an urgent and mind-bending aviation mystery.

With only its own radar to go on, it took Malaysia a week to confirm that Flight 370 had entered the strait, an important detail that led it to change its search strategy.

When asked why it took so long to release the information, Montol said, "Because we did not pay any attention to it. The Royal Thai Air Force only looks after any threats against our country, so anything that did not look like a threat to us, we simply look at it without taking actions."

He said the plane never entered Thai airspace and that Malaysia's initial request for information in the early days of the search was not specific.

"When they asked again and there was new information and assumptions from (Malaysian) Prime Minister Najib Razak, we took a look at our information again," Montol said. "It didn't take long for us to figure out, although it did take some experts to find out about it."

Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12:40 am. Malaysian time and its transponder, which allows air traffic controllers to identify and track the airplane, ceased communicating at 1:20 am.

Montol said that at 1:28 am, Thai military radar "was able to detect a signal, which was not a normal signal, of a plane flying in the direction opposite from the MH370 plane," back toward Kuala Lumpur. The plane later turned right, toward Butterworth, a Malaysian city along the Strait of Malacca.

The radar signal was infrequent and did not include any data such as the flight number.

He said he didn't know exactly when Thai radar last detected the plane. Malaysian officials have said Flight 370 was last detected by their own military radar at 2:14 am.

As big as Australia

Malaysia on Tuesday said the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet now encompassed an area slightly larger than the entire land mass of Australia.

"The entire search area is now 2.24 million square nautical miles (7.7 million square kilometres)," acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in a daily press briefing on Tuesday evening.

Australia has a land mass of around 7.6 million square kilometres.

The search area extends north into south central Asia, passing across far western China, including Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as south deep into the Indian Ocean west of Australia.

"This is an enormous search area. And it is something that Malaysia cannot possibly search on its own," Hishammuddin said.

"I am therefore very pleased that so many countries have come forward to offer assistance and support to the search and rescue operation."

26 countries have deployed dozens of aircraft to search for the missing Beijing-bound jet that went missing in the early hours of March 8.

Eleven days after contact was lost with the aircraft and its 239 passengers and crew, there has been minimal progress in determining precisely what happened or where the plane ended up.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Saturday satellite data showed the plane had been deliberately diverted after it lost contact with ground controllers.
AFP
One is a technical wizard whose affable manner made him a favourite of trainee pilots; the other an enthusiastic young aviator planning to marry his sweetheart.

The captain and co-pilot of Malaysia Airlines  Flight MH370 are now at the centre of a baffling paradox: as circumstantial evidence mounts that at least one of them may have been involved in the plane's disappearance on March 8, accounts of their lives portray them as sociable, well-balanced and happy.

Described as devoted to their families and communities, neither fits the profile of a loner or extremist who might have a motive for suicide, hijacking or terrorism.

International media scrutiny and investigations by the Malaysian police have failed to turn up red flags on either the captain, 53-year-old grandfather Zaharie Ahmad Shah, or the co-pilot, 27-year old Fariq Abdul Hamid.

Both live in well-to-do neighbourhoods in Shah Alam, an area west of Kuala Lumpur that is popular among flight crews for its proximity to the international airport. On Tuesday, security guards prevented reporters from entering Zaharie's upscale gated residence. About 10 minutes' drive away, Fariq's house stood empty, with an unread newspaper lying outside.

Family and friends say there is nothing in their personalities or past to suggest they would have committed foul play.

"I've never seen him lose his temper. It's difficult to believe any of the speculation made against him," said Peter Chong, a friend of Zaharie, describing him as highly disciplined and conscientious.

Eleven days after the Boeing 777 jetliner carrying 239 people vanished without trace, scrutiny has zeroed in on the pilots due to the deliberate way in which the plane was switched into radar darkness and diverted far from its route to Beijing.

The person who chose that exact time and place to vanish appears to have acted only after meticulous planning and must have had advanced aviation knowledge, according to experts.

"It raises so many questions, not least that you have got to be prepared to believe that a pilot would do this," said Paul Hayes, a leading air safety expert at UK-based consultancy, Flightglobal Ascend.

"But it is hard to understand the motive. In cases where pilot suicide was thought to be the cause, the alleged suicide pilots executed the plan as soon as they were in a position to do so."

A HANDYMAN WITH POLITICAL PASSIONS

Lacking other explanations, focus has turned to what would otherwise be seen as innocent passions in Zaharie's life - a desire to vote out Malaysia's long-ruling government, and an extreme enthusiasm for flying planes and fixing gadgets.

Zaharie, a balding father of three who likes to cook, appears to have undergone a social-media awakening in early 2013 when he began posting video of himself on YouTube, dispensing tips on how to fix refrigerators and tweak air conditioners.

After signing up to YouTube in January 2013, the man described by friends as a moderate Muslim watched clips on God and atheism and speeches by Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. He joined Anwar's party the same month, and helped campaign for elections in May 2013 that were narrowly won by the ruling coalition and afterwards disputed by the opposition.

"There is a rebel in each and everyone of us...let it out!" Zaharie wrote on Facebook in the weeks after the election as Anwar led nationwide rallies to challenge the result.

About six hours before Flight MH370 took off, Anwar was convicted and sentenced to five years' jail for sodomy, a ruling widely condemned as politically motivated.

That has sparked speculation that Zaharie, perhaps enraged by the setback for his political idol, could have brought down the plane as a form of protest or out of despair.

But his passion to see Malaysia's first change of government in 56 years was shared by millions in the country and the opposition is a democratic movement with no links to extremist groups. There is no evidence he attended Anwar's trial, as some media reported. He still lived with his wife, despite other reports they were breaking up.

"He was a disciplined person," said Chong, who said he first met Zaharie two years ago when he saw him tidying chairs after a community event.

"Since 9/11, I believe they are not even allowed to open the cockpit door even under duress. The captain Zaharie that I know would be the kind of person who would strictly stick to that."

Zaharie made no secret of his obsession with aviation, which ranged from flying model aeroplanes to setting up a multi-screen flight simulator at home, which he also showed off on YouTube. Police have seized the machine and are examining its contents, but say they have yet to find anything suspicious.

A fellow Malaysia Airlines pilot, who declined to be identified, described Zaharie as a "decent and approachable man" who was sought out by less experienced pilots to observe their final training runs, a procedure known as line checks.

"Younger pilots would seek him for their line checks because he was easy to talk to," the pilot said.

Neighbours who know Fariq, the son of a senior civil servant, told Reuters he is known as a good and pious man who was a regular worshipper at a mosque a few minutes walk from his house. Relatives said he was a diligent student who loved his job, having recently qualified to fly the wide-body 777 jet.

There has been no suggestion he had extremist views or serious personal problems, although he came under fire after the plane's disappearance when it emerged he had allowed two women into the cockpit on a 2011 flight.

Fariq, who officials believe uttered the final words "all right, goodnight" from the cockpit, had been expected to propose this year to his girlfriend Nadira Ramli, who was a co-pilot for budget carrier AirAsia.

"It was a matter of time before they got married," said a relative of the fresh-faced Fariq who asked not to be identified. "Police investigating the suicide theory is upsetting to the family. Why would he even do that? He had a good life and he had Nadira."

China has 21 satellites looking for missing Malaysian jet

China said on Tuesday that it has deployed 21 satellites to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner with 239 people on board.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei made the comments at a daily news briefing.

China has begun searching for the missing jet in those parts of its own territory covered by a northern corridor that the aircraft could have flown through, state media said earlier in the day.

No trace of the plane has been found more than a week after it vanished, but investigators believe it was diverted by someone with deep knowledge of the plane and commercial navigation.
 

Thailand shares radar data on plane that might be Flight 370

Thailand's military said on Tuesday that its radar detected a plane that may have been Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 just minutes after the jetliner's communications went down, and that it didn't share the information with Malaysia earlier because it wasn't specifically asked for it.

A twisting flight path described on Tuesday by Thai air force spokesman Air Vice Marshal Montol Suchookorn took the plane to the Strait of Malacca, which is where Malaysian radar tracked Flight 370 early March 8. But Montol said the Thai military doesn't know whether it detected the same plane.

Thailand's failure to quickly share possible information regarding the fate of the plane, and the 239 people aboard it, may not substantially change what Malaysian officials know, but it raises questions about the degree to which some countries are sharing their defence information, even in the name of an urgent and mind-bending aviation mystery.

With only its own radar to go on, it took Malaysia a week to confirm that Flight 370 had entered the strait, an important detail that led it to change its search strategy.

When asked why it took so long to release the information, Montol said, "Because we did not pay any attention to it. The Royal Thai Air Force only looks after any threats against our country, so anything that did not look like a threat to us, we simply look at it without taking actions."

He said the plane never entered Thai airspace and that Malaysia's initial request for information in the early days of the search was not specific.

"When they asked again and there was new information and assumptions from (Malaysian) Prime Minister Najib Razak, we took a look at our information again," Montol said. "It didn't take long for us to figure out, although it did take some experts to find out about it."

Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12:40 a.m. Malaysian time and its transponder, which allows air traffic controllers to identify and track the airplane, ceased communicating at 1:20 a.m.

Montol said that at 1:28 a.m., Thai military radar "was able to detect a signal, which was not a normal signal, of a plane flying in the direction opposite from the MH370 plane," back toward Kuala Lumpur. The plane later turned right, toward Butterworth, a Malaysian city along the Strait of Malacca. The radar signal was infrequent and did not include any data such as the flight number.

He said he didn't know exactly when Thai radar last detected the plane. Malaysian officials have said Flight 370 was last detected by their own military radar at 2:14 a.m.

The search area for the plane initially focused on the South China Sea, where ships and planes spent a week searching. Pings that a satellite detected from the plane hours after its communications went down have led authorities to concentrate instead on two vast arcs — one into central Asia and the other into the Indian Ocean — that together cover an expanse as big as Australia.

Thai officials said radar equipment in southern Thailand detected the plane. Malaysian officials have said the plane might ultimately have passed through northern Thailand, but Thai Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong told reporters Tuesday that the country's northern radar did not detect it.

No evidence linking 153 Chinese passengers aboard to terror or hijacking

Intelligence checks on 153 Chinese passengers on a missing Malaysian airliner produced no red flags, China said Tuesday, as Malaysia marshalled ships and planes from 26 countries to search an area the size of Australia.

Eleven days after contact was lost with Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and its 239 passengers and crew, there has been minimal progress in determining precisely what happened or where the plane ended up.

Lending fresh weight to the belief that the plane was deliberately diverted, the New York Times reported that the first turn it made off its flight path was programmed into the Boeing 777's computer navigation system, probably by someone in the cockpit.

Rather than manually operating the plane's controls, whoever altered Flight 370's path typed seven or eight keystrokes into a computer situated between the captain and the co-pilot, the newspaper said, quoting US officials.

The head of Malaysia Airlines, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, said he was unable to confirm the report.

"The aircraft was programmed to fly to Beijing ... (but) once you are in the aircraft, anything is possible," he told a daily press briefing.

Two thirds of those on board were Chinese, and Malaysia had asked  authorities in Beijing to run an exhaustive background check on all their nationals as part of a probe into everyone aboard.

Particular attention was paid to a passenger from China's Muslim ethnic Uighur minority.

On Tuesday China's ambassador to Malaysia Huang Huikang said no evidence had been found that would link anyone to a possible hijacking or terrorist attack on the jet.

- China criticism -The current search area, which was only properly identified after a week of fruitlessly scouring the South China Sea, is enormous -- stretching from the depths of the Indian Ocean, up and over the Himalayas and into central Asia.

Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said it covered a total of 2.24 million square nautical miles (7.7 million square kilometres) -- slightly larger than Australia.

China's state media has been vocally critical of Malaysia's handling of the investigation, saying valuable time and resources were wasted in the hours and days immediately after the aircraft disappeared on March 8.

Desperate relatives of the Chinese passengers threatened to go on hunger strike Tuesday, demanding that Malaysia's ambassador brief them in person.

Malaysian officials insist they are investigating all the passengers and crew, but for the moment the focus is clearly on the two pilots -- Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid.

On Monday Ahmad Jauhari revealed that the last recorded words from the cockpit -- "All right, good night" -- were almost certainly spoken by the co-pilot, Fariq.

The identity was deemed important given that the final message came around the time the plane's two automated signalling systems were disabled and it veered off course just as it was being handed over from Malaysian to Vietnamese air traffic control.

Despite some confusion about when the systems were switched off, Hishammuddin stressed that investigators still believe the series of events were consistent with "deliberate action" by someone on the plane.

The nonchalant style of the verbal sign-off had been queried in some quarters, but a Boeing 777 pilot told AFP it was "completely normal" for a pilot leaving his domestic air space.

Police have searched both pilots' homes and are examining a flight simulator that Captain Zaharie, 53, had assembled at his home.

Malaysian media reported that Zaharie was distantly related to the daughter-in-law of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, aas well as being a member of his political party.

Anwar said Tuesday he was "disgusted" by the suggestion the plane may have been sabotaged as an act of revenge hours after he was convicted on a sodomy charge widely seen as politically motivated.

Hishammuddin said the search for the missing aircraft should remain "above politics".

- No idea of location -Twenty-six countries are now involved in that search in a northern corridor over south and central Asia, and a southern corridor stretching deep into the southern Indian Ocean towards Australia.

A French expert who took part in the search for Air France Flight 447, which crashed in the Atlantic in 2009, said finding the Malaysian plane was a much tougher proposition.

"Here we simply have no idea of the location of the aircraft, because there were no ACARS signals," said Jean-Paul Troadec, a special adviser with France's civil aviation accident investigation agency.

Malaysia has deployed its navy and air force to the southern corridor, where Australia is taking the lead in scouring a huge section of ocean off its west coast.

"It will take at least a few weeks to search the area thoroughly," said John Young of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

The US Pacific Fleet withdrew a guided missile destroyer, saying the area was simply too big for such a vessel to make an effective contribution.

"The Indian Ocean goes so far, there probably aren't enough ships and aircraft in the world to search every inch of it," Fleet spokesman Commander William Marks told CNN.

Search begins on Chinese territory; Diversion programmed into cockpit

Chinese state media say search begins on Chinese territory for missing Malaysian jet .

China said on Tuesday that it has deployed 21 satellites to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner with 239 people on board.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei made the comments at a daily news briefing.

Diversion programmed

The turn that diverted the missing Malaysian Airlines plane off its flight path was programmed into the aircraft's computer navigation system, probably by someone in the cockpit, the New York Times reported late Monday.

That reinforces the increasing belief among investigators that the aircraft was deliberately diverted, the newspaper said, quoting US officials.

Australia's maritime safety agency said on Tuesday it had sharply reduced its search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner to a 600,000 sqkm (230,000 sqmile) corridor in the southern Indian Ocean, but that is still roughly the size of Spain and Portugal combined.

Strong currents and high seas are making the task more daunting, it said.

In the northern hemisphere, a separate search area is along an arc stretching from Malaysia through northern Thailand, Myanmar and China to Kazakhstan.

Chinese passengers cleared: China

No evidence has been found linking the 153 Chinese passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight to terror or hijacking, state media said Tuesday, citing Beijing's envoy in Kuala Lumpur.

The United Arab Emirates Armed Forces is taking part in the search operations for the Malaysian Airlines passenger plane, which went missing10 days ago, a source at the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces has said.

The source added that the UAE Armed Forces is using two search and rescue aircraft in the search operations, which cover a zone stretching south over the Indian Ocean to Australia and north over an area extending to the south and central Asia. There are 26 countries currently involved in the search operations.

The Malaysia Airlines plane went missing on March 8 while flying over the South East Asia and the Indian Ocean with 239 passengers onboard, leading to a massive international search operation.

 

Malaysia Airlines flight diverted by person with deep knowledge of plane, commercial navigation

Investigators believe it was diverted by someone with deep knowledge of the plane and commercial navigation.

Malaysia must "immediately" expand and clarify the scope of the search for a Malaysia Airlines jetliner that disappeared with 239 people on board, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday in a statement posted on its website.

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing in Beijing that China's ambassador to Malaysia met Malaysia's foreign minister on Monday.

Engineer suspect

Malaysian police are investigating a flight engineer who was among the passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane as they focus on the pilots and anyone else on board who had technical flying knowledge, a senior police official said.

The aviation engineer is Mohd Khairul Amri Selamat, 29, a Malaysian who has said on social media he had worked for a private jet charter company.

Historic satellite search

Finding a missing Malaysia Airlines plane may hinge on whether searchers can narrow down where they need to look using satellite data that is inexact and has never been used for that purpose before, search and rescue experts say.

Authorities now believe someone on board the Boeing 777 shut down part of the aircraft's messaging system about the same time the plane with 239 people on board disappeared from civilian radar.

But an Inmarsat satellite was able to automatically connect with a portion of the messaging system that remained in operation, similar to a phone call that just rings because no one is on the other end to pick it up and provide information.

No location information was exchanged, but the satellite continued to identify the plane once an hour for four to five hours after it disappeared from radar screens.

Based on the hourly connections with the plane, described by a US official as a "handshake," the satellite knows at what angle to tilt its antenna to be ready to receive a message from the plane should one be sent.

Using that antenna angle, along with radar data, investigators have been able to draw two vast arcs, or "corridors" — a northern one from northern Thailand through to the border of the Central Asian countries Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and a southern one from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.

The plane is believed to be somewhere along those arcs.

Air crash investigators have never used this kind of satellite data before to try to find a missing plane, but after pursing other leads it's the best clue left.

"The people that are doing this are thinking outside the box. They're using something that wasn't designed to be used this way, and it seems to be working," said William Waldock, who teaches accident investigation at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona.

"In terms of search and rescue, they're probably going to have rewrite the book after this."

25 countries, 43 ships, 58 aircraft

Authorities generally believe the plane crashed into the ocean, although they can't rule out the possibility that it may be on land somewhere.
Twenty-five countries are involved in the search for the plane, using at least 43 ships and 58 aircraft.

"If it really is out there in the Indian Ocean, they're going to need a lot more than that," Waldock said.
"It's immense. It takes a lot of effort, a lot of people, a lot of ships and airplanes."

In order to narrow down the location, low-flying planes are searching broad swathes of water for any sign of debris.

The search is complicated by the vast amount of trash floating in the world's oceans.

If the airliner did crash into the ocean, some lighter-weight items such as insulation, seat cushions, and life jackets, as well as bodies not strapped to seats, are likely to be floating on the surface, Waldock said.

The heavier parts of the plane would sink, with depths in some parts of the Indian Ocean at over 15,000 feet(4,570 meters), he said.

When suspected debris of a plane is found, the nearest ship — whether it's a search ship or a commercial vessel that happens to be in the area — is sent to the site.

A small boat or life raft usually has to be lowered into the water for a closer look at the debris to judge whether it might have come from the missing plane.

If searchers find airplane debris, ocean currents will have already moved away from where the plane went into the water.
Searchers will then have to use their knowledge of currents in the region to estimate how far and from what direction the debris came, and work backward to that location.

The airliner is equipped with two "black boxes" — a flight data recorder that contains hundreds of types of information on how the plane was functioning, and cockpit voice recorder that contains pilots' conversations and noise in the cockpit. Both are equipped with underwater locator beacons, sometimes called "pingers," that emit a sonic signal that can only be heard underwater. Sonar on ships can sometimes pick up the pings, but they are best heard using a special pinger locator device that is lowered into the water.

The US Navy in the Indian Ocean region has a pinger locator. "It's boxed up, it's ready to be sent somewhere," said a US official. "Right now, there just isn't enough evidence to tell us where to send it."

The official agreed to speak only on condition anonymity because he wasn't authorised to speak publicly.

Global call

Malaysia has appealed for help and international coordination in a search for its missing passenger jet that stretches across two corridors from the Caspian Sea to the southern Indian Ocean, diplomats said on Sunday.

Malaysian officials briefed envoys from 22 countries on the progress of the investigation after calling off a search in the South China Sea for the jet that vanished from radar screens more than a week ago, with 239 people on board.

Although countries have been coordinating individually, the broad formal request at a meeting of ambassadors marked a new diplomatic phase in a search operation thought increasingly likely to rely on the sharing of sensitive material such as military radar data.

"The meeting was for us to know exactly what is happening and what sort of help they need. It is more for them to tell us, 'please put in all your resources'," T.S. Tirumurti, India's high commissioner to Malaysia, told Reuters.

The diplomatic initiative could become significant as nations ponder whether to share any military data on the Boeing 777's fate, and fills a void left by the failure of Southeast Asian nations to work as a bloc on the crisis, a diplomat said.

"There are clearly limits to military data," the diplomat said, adding that nations were nonetheless aware of the strong public interest in cooperation on a civilian issue.

Malaysian Defence Minister and Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Malaysia had itself fed the findings of its own military radar tracks into what is now a domestic criminal enquiry into suspected hijacking or sabotage.

He declined to say whether Kuala Lumpur had asked others to open up their military radar tracks, but told a news conference that it had asked for both primary and secondary radar data.

Experts say military forces mainly use primary or classic radar, which works by listening for its own echo bouncing back off a potentially unfriendly object.

Civil air traffic control mostly uses secondary radar, which relies on hearing a signal sent back from the aircraft's transponder along with data designed to identify the plane.

It was the apparently deliberate decision to turn the jet's transponder off that left Malaysian authorities relying on the blips picked up by primary military radar to form the theory that the aircraft - on a flight to Beijing - had turned back west before disappearing.

Underscoring the caution surrounding the request for deeper co-operation, at least one country represented at Sunday's ambassadorial meeting asked Malaysia to supply its request in writing, a diplomat present at the talks said.

Southeast Asia has been at the centre of a regional arms race for several years amid tensions in the South China Sea, with maritime surveillance and air defences high on the list of hardware laid out at last month's Singapore Airshow.

The search for the missing jet is focusing on a wide stripe of territory either side of two arcs formed by satellite plots of the aircraft's last known possible position.

The northernmost of these stretches runs north through Thailand and China and bends towards India, Pakistan and then Central Asia, over some of the world's most strongly guarded defences.

If the jet did stray into those areas, sensitivities over whether and how such sensitive data could be shared could be further complicated by potential embarrassment over how such a large unidentified aircraft could have continued unchallenged.

Defense analysts said on Saturday that the jet's disappearance raised awkward questions about the strength of regional or even global air defences.

Pilot's home flight simulator examined

Malaysia said on Sunday that police had searched the homes of the pilots of a missing jet and examined a home flight simulator after revelations that the flight was deliberately diverted triggered a full-scale criminal probe.

Malaysian police say they are investigating engineers who might have had contact with plane.

Investigators probing the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 piloted an identical Boeing 777-200 on the missing plane's suspected flight path, in a re-enactment confirming their belief that it banked west, a senior Malaysian military official said Sunday. 

Police are combing through the personal, political and religious backgrounds of pilots and crew of a missing Malaysian jetliner, a senior officer said on Sunday, trying to work out why someone aboard flew the plane hundreds of miles off course.

No trace of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER has been found since it vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board, but investigators believe it was diverted by someone who knew how to switch off its communications and tracking systems.

"We are not ruling out any sort of motivation at the moment," a senior police official with knowledge of the investigation told Reuters.

India suspends search

India on Sunday suspended its search for Malaysia Airlines flight 370 around the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands and in the Bay of Bengal and are awaiting fresh instructions from Malaysia, a defence official said.

"The entire operation is on hold for now. We are awaiting fresh instructions from Malaysia. Nothing came out of the search in designated areas on Saturday," said Colonel Harmit Singh, spokesman for India's army, navy and airforce command in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Indian radar may have been turned off at night.

Whatever truly happened to missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, its apparently unchallenged wanderings through Asian skies point to major gaps in regional - and perhaps wider - air defences.

More than a decade after Al Qaeda hijackers turned airliners into weapons on Sept 11, 2001, a large commercial aircraft completely devoid of stealth features appeared to vanish with relative ease.

On Saturday, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak said authorities now believed the Boeing 777 flew for nearly seven hours after disappearing early on March 8. Either its crew or someone else on the plane disabled the on-board transponder civilian air traffic radar used to track it, investigators believe.

It appears to have first flown back across the South China Sea - an area of considerable geopolitical tension and military activity - before overflying northern Malaysia and then heading out towards India without any alarm being raised.

The reality, analysts and officials say, is that much of the airspace over water - and in many cases over land - lacks sophisticated or properly monitored radar coverage.

Analysts say the gaps in Southeast Asia's air defences are likely to be mirrored in other parts of the developing world, and may be much greater in areas with considerably lower geopolitical tensions.

"Several nations will be embarrassed by how easy it is to trespass their airspace," said Air Vice Marshal Michael Harwood, a retired British Royal Air Force pilot and ex-defence attache to Washington DC. "Too many movies and Predator (unmanned military drone) feeds from Afghanistan have suckered people into thinking we know everything and see everything. You get what you pay for. And the world, by and large, does not pay."

NOTHING MUCH HAPPENS AT NIGHT

Investigators now say they believe MH370 may have turned either towards India and Central Asia or - perhaps more likely, given the lack of detection - taken a southern course towards the Antarctic. That would have been an effectively suicidal flight, the aircraft eventually running out of fuel and crashing.

The waters of the southern Indian Ocean and northern Southern Ocean are among the most remote on the planet, used by few ships and overflown by few aircraft.

Australian civilian radar extends only some 200 km (125 miles) from its coast, an Australian official said on condition of anonymity, although its air defence radar extends much further. Australia's military could not be reached for comment on Saturday and if it did detect a transponder-less aircraft heading south, there is no suggestion any alarm was raised.

US military satellites monitor much of the globe, including some of the remotest oceans, looking primarily for early warning of any ballistic missile launch from a submarine or other vessel.

After the aircraft's initial disappearance a week ago, US officials said their satellites had detected no signs of a mid-air explosion. It is unclear if such systems would have detected a crash landing in the southern Indian Ocean.

On India's Andaman Islands, a defence official told reporters he saw nothing unusual or out of place in the lack of permanent radar coverage. The threat in the area, he said, was much lower than on India's border with Pakistan where sophisticated radars are manned and online continuously.

At night in particular, he said, "nothing much happens".

"We have our radars, we use them, we train with them, but it's not a place where we have (much) to watch out for," he said. "My take is that this is a pretty peaceful place."

Pilot's home searched

Police began searching the home of the pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight on Saturday, after the country's prime minister confirmed the plane was suspected to have been deliberately diverted, a senior police official told Reuters.

Prime Minister Najib Razak's statement confirmed days of mounting speculation that the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was not accidental, and underlines the massive task for searchers who have been scouring vast areas of ocean.

"In view of this latest development, the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board," Najib said, stressing they were still investigating all possibilities as to why the plane deviated so drastically from its original flight path.

Malaysia's leader Saturday said communications aboard a missing jet were switched off and its course deliberately changed by someone on board before the aircraft disappeared a week ago, but stopped short of saying it had been hijacked.

Final satellite communication with the Boeing 777 flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing came more than six-and-a-half hours after it vanished from civilian radar at 1:30am on March 8, Prime Minister Najib Razak told a nationally televised press conference.

The movement of the plane in the interim period, during which it changed direction and passed back over the Malaysian peninsula towards the Indian Ocean, was "consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane," Najib said.

"Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear: we are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate from its original flight path," he added.

Najib said his announcement was based on new information from satellite contact with the plane and military radar data.

The combined data suggested "with a high degree of certainty" that the plane's two automated communications systems -- Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) and its transponder -- were "switched off" one after the other before it reached the point over the South China Sea where it dropped out of civilian radar contact.

It then turned back and flew in a westerly direction back over peninsular Malaysia before turning northwest.

The last confirmed communication between the plane and satellite was at 8:11 am, Najib said, adding that investigators were calculating how far the aircraft may have flown afterwards.

So far, experts had located the last point of communication as being inside one of two large geographical corridors: a northern corridor stretching from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand, and a southern corridor stretching from Indonesia to the southern Indian ocean.

"This new satellite information has a significant impact on the nature and scope of the search operation," the prime minister said.
"We are ending our operations in the South China Sea and reassessing the redeployment of our assets. We are working with the relevant countries to request all information relevant to the search, including radar data," he added.

Indian Navy finds nothing... yet

Indian Navy ships supported by surveillance planes and helicopters are scouring Andaman Sea islands for a third day without any success in finding evidence of a missing Malaysia Airlines jet.

VSR Murthy, a top Indian coast guard official, says the search has been expanded farther west into the Bay of Bengal on Saturday. Nearly a dozen ships, patrol vessels, surveillance aircraft and helicopters have been deployed but Murthy says, "We have got nothing so far."

Seeing no headway, Malaysian authorities suggested Friday a new search area of 9,000 square kilometers (3,474 square miles) to India along the Chennai coast in the Bay of Bengal, India's Defence Ministry said in a statement.

Analysis of electronic pulses picked up from a missing Malaysian airliner shows it could have run out of fuel and crashed into the Indian Ocean after it flew hundreds of miles off course, a source familiar with official US assessments said on Friday.

The source, who is familiar with data the US government is receiving from the investigation into the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane, said the other, less likely possibility was that it flew on towards India.

The data obtained from pulses the plane sent to satellites had been interpreted to provide two different analyses because it was ambiguous, said the source, who declined to be identified because the investigation was continuing.

But it offers the first real clues as to the fate of Flight MH370, which officials increasingly believe was deliberately diverted off its scheduled course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The Boeing 777-200ER was carrying 239 people.

Two sources familiar with the probe earlier said Malaysian military radar data showed a plane that investigators suspect was Flight MH370 following a commonly used navigational route toward the Middle East and Europe when it was last spotted by radar early on March 8, northwest of Malaysia.

The electronic pulses were believed to have been transmitted for several hours after the plane flew out of radar range, said the source familiar with the data.

The most likely possibility is that after travelling northwest, the airliner did a sharp turn to the south, into the Indian Ocean where officials think, based on the available data, it flew until it ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea, added the source.

The other interpretation from the pulses is that Flight MH370 continued to fly to the northwest and headed over Indian territory, said the source.

Pilot turned plane

Speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, the official cited Malaysian military radar data that investigators believe indicate the Boeing 777 may have radically changed course and headed northwest towards the Indian Ocean.

"It has to be a skilled, competent and a current pilot," the official said.

"He knew how to avoid the civilian radar. He appears to have studied how to avoid it."

The intended flight path for the Kuala Lumpur-Beijing flight was to be north over the South China Sea and Vietnam.

The new information, coupled with multiple corroborative but unconfirmed reports, suggests the investigation into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was increasingly focusing on something going wrong in the cockpit.

Analysts have said that could include a sudden loss of cabin pressure or other mechanical event that incapacitated the pilots, catastrophic pilot error, or more sinister possibilities such as the plane being commandeered by a hijacker or rogue member of the flight crew, or pilot suicide.

All signs so far point to a "controlled, deliberate act, not a mechanical failure", said Scott Hamilton, managing director of US-based aviation consultancy Leeham Co.

The mounting reports of an unexplained banking to the west have coincided with a shift of search and rescue resources toward the Indian Ocean.
 

For complete coverage click below

 

7 days in the life of Missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370

 

Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: 12 key clues to world's most baffling aviation mystery

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