MH370 'announcement in hours'... still coming

Family members of passengers on board hold tearful vigil in Beijing

Latest Update: Family members of passengers on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 held a tearful vigil in Beijing in the early hours of Tuesday to mark one month since contact with the plane was lost.

Dozens of family members placed candles in the shape of a heart surrounding an aeroplane on the carpeted floor of the capital's Lido hotel.
They sat in a circle around the candles, with some audibly wailing while others remained silent or pressed their palms together in gestures of prayer.

"We've been waiting and holding on here for already 31 days," said Steve Wang, one of the relatives.
"Don't cry anymore. Don't hurt anymore. Don't despair. Don't feel lost," he counselled others who gathered for the vigil.

There is still no proof of what happened to the plane, but an intensive international search is now focused on the southern Indian Ocean off Australia, where possible ping signals have been detected, potentially emanating from the plane's "black box" flight data and cockpit voice recorders.

About two-thirds of the 239 people on board were Chinese.

'Cautiously hopeful'

Malaysia's defence minister says he is "cautiously hopeful" that there will be positive developments in the next few days, "if not hours," in the search for the missing airliner.

Hishamuddin Hussein made the comments on Monday during a press conference in light of news about underwater sounds detected by ships searching the southern Indian Ocean. At least some of the sounds are consistent with pings from aircraft black boxes.

Authorities have warned that it will take time to confirm whether the sounds are signals from the flight data recorders that belonged to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished a month ago.

The batteries in the black boxes run out after about 30 days, and the plane vanished March 8, so searchers are in a race against time to locate the devices.

EARLIER REPORT: US Navy "towed pinger locator" connected to the Australian ship Ocean Shield picked up signals in an area some 1,680km (1,040 miles) northwest of Perth, which analysis of sporadic satellite data has determined as the most likely place Boeing 777 went down.

An Australian navy ship has detected new signals "consistent" with aircraft black boxes, a senior official said Monday, describing it as the "most promising lead" so far in the search for MH370.

Search chief Angus Houston said the team now had an underwater search area which was narrowly focused and that the signals had left them "encouraged that we are very close to where we need to be".

A sea and air fleet was scouring the vast Indian Ocean on Monday for further underwater signals in the hunt for a missing Malaysian airliner before the plane's black box batteries run out. 

Three separate signals have been detected so far raising hopes of solving the mystery of Flight MH370.
Up to nine military planes, three civil planes and 14 ships were to take part in Monday's operation, Australia's Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said.

Angus Houston, head of the Australian-led search mission, said Sunday the signal detections were being taken "very seriously" as time ticked down on the the black box tracking beacons.

He said Chinese vessel Haixun 01 had twice picked up an underwater signal on a frequency used for the plane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders -- once for 90 seconds on Saturday and another more fleeting "ping" on Friday a short distance away.

A third "ping" was also being scrutinised, 300 nautical miles away, by the Australian vessel Ocean Shield.
Britain's Ministry of Defence confirmed late Sunday that the HMS Echo, equipped to detect a black box, had arrived in the area where the Chinese had reported a ping.

"It will start its work to find the black box in the next hour," the spokeswoman told AFP.
Houston said Australian ship Ocean Shield -- also equipped with a black box locator -- and Australian air force planes were being diverted to the area to help discount or confirm the Chinese signals.

Houston said time was critical.

"This is Day 30 of the search and the advertised time for the life of the batteries in the beacon is 30 days," he said Sunday.

"Sometimes they last for several days beyond that -- say eight to 10 days beyond that -- but we're running out of time in terms of the battery life of the emergency locator beacons."

Houston insisted that China was "sharing everything that's relevant to this search" with the lead authority, and sidestepped questions over the Haixun 01's location far from the other lead vessels in the search.

 

Ships searching the vast Indian Ocean for a Malaysian airliner have detected three separate underwater signals, and more ships and planes were diverted on Sunday to investigate whether they could have come from its "black box".

Angus Houston, head of the Australian search mission, said the detections were being taken "very seriously" as time ticked down on the battery life of the black box's tracking beacons.

He said China's Haixun 01 has twice detected an underwater signal on a frequency used for the plane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders -- once for 90 seconds on Saturday and another more fleeting "ping" on Friday a short distance away.

A third "ping" was also being scrutinised, 300 nautical miles away in the Indian Ocean.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 239 people aboard vanished on March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

"This is an important and encouraging lead but one which I urge you to continue to treat carefully," Houston told reporters.

"We are working in a very big ocean and within a very large search area."

"Speculation and unconfirmed reports can see the loved ones of the passengers put through terrible stress and I don't want to put them under any further emotional distress at this very difficult time."

Britain's HMS Echo and the Australian ship Ocean Shield -- both equipped with black box locators -- and Australian air force planes were being diverted to the area to help discount or confirm the Chinese signals, Houston said.

Ocean Shield was also investigating the signal it detected on Sunday in its current location, about 300 nautical miles north of Haixun 01, in waters far off Australia's west coast.

Houston said the Chinese finding was more promising.

"I think the fact that we've had two detections, two acoustic events in that location, provides some promise which requires a full investigation," he said.

Time running out

The hunt for the jet was refocused on the southern end of the search zone Sunday after corrected satellite data showed it was more likely the plane entered the water there.

Houston said the Haixun 01 was already operating in that more southerly zone.

Some analysts greeted the acoustic detections with optimism, saying a 37.5kHz signal can only be transmitted by an emergency beacon. But others were sceptical and said it was vital to find supporting evidence.

Houston said Haixun 01 was in waters about 4.5 kilometres (nearly three miles) deep, meaning "any recovery operation is going to be incredibly challenging and very demanding and will take a long period of time" if the plane is found there.

Houston said time was critical.

"This is Day 30 of the search and the advertised time for the life of the batteries in the beacon is 30 days. Sometimes they last for several days beyond that -- say eight to 10 days beyond that -- but we're running out of time in terms of the battery life of the emergency locator beacons."

Up to 10 military planes, two civil aircraft and 13 ships were scouring the remote waters on Sunday, concentrating on about 216,000 square kilometres (86,400 sq miles) of the Indian Ocean around 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) northwest of Perth.

Houston insisted that China was "sharing everything that's relevant to this search" with the lead authority, and sidestepped questions over the Haixun 01's location far from the other lead vessels in the search.

"China has seven ships out there, that's by far the largest fleet of ships out there. I think we should be focusing on the positives," he said.

Hope, scepticism over signal


In Kuala Lumpur more than 2,000 people including relatives held an emotional mass prayer Sunday for the safety of the passengers.

Orange-robed Buddhist monks chanted mantras for almost two hours, before about two dozen tearful relatives left the event.

Some family members still cling to hope in the absence of wreckage from the plane, and are desperate for leads.

But Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor of Flightglobal publication, based in Singapore, said he was sceptical that the Chinese ship had picked up a pulse.

"There have been a lot of false leads in this story and we need to be extremely cautious with any information that comes," he told AFP.

"I am very sceptical that the Chinese have found something so soon, given the vastness of the search area."

Ravi Madavaram, an aviation analyst with Frost & Sullivan based in Kuala Lumpur, said most beacons used in the maritime and aviation industry had the same frequency and the ping could "likely" be from flight MH370.

"But the Chinese have not said exactly where the 'ping' is originating and where they detected it," he said.

"The Chinese had previously given false alarms, so we need to verify from others before we can confirm that we have a ping."

Malaysian authorities believe satellite readings indicate MH370 crashed in the Indian Ocean after veering dramatically off course for reasons that remain unknown.

A criminal probe has focused on the possibility of a hijacking, sabotage or psychological problems among passengers or crew, but there is no evidence yet to support any of the theories.

EARLIER REPORT

'Pings encouraging and important'

Australia on Sunday sent planes and ships to investigate signals detected by a Chinese ship in the hunt for a missing Malaysian jet, saying they matched black box beacons and were an "important and encouraging lead".

Chinese and Australian ships hunting for a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner have picked up separate acoustic signals in different parts of a vast Indian Ocean search area and are trying to verify if one could be from the plane's black box recorders.

Australian search authorities said on Sunday a Chinese patrol vessel, the Haixun 01, had picked up a fleeting "ping" signal twice in recent days in waters west of Perth, near where investigators believe Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went down on March 8.

More planes and ships were being sent to assist in that area, but meanwhile, Australia's HMAS Ocean Shield had reported a separate "acoustic event" some 300 nautical miles away.

New satellite data moves hunt south

Corrected satellite data has shifted the focus for the hunt for missing Malaysia Airline Flight MH370 to the south, the head of the agency coordinating the search mission said Sunday.

"The whole of the existing search area remains the most likely area that the aircraft entered the water, but based on the new advice the southern area now has a higher priority," retired air chief marshal Angus Houston said.

The Chinese ship Haixun 01, which has detected some signals that could be from the plane's beacons, is in this more southern area of the Indian Ocean search zone.
 

Consistent signal

A signal detected by a Chinese ship searching the Indian Ocean for flight MH370 is "consistent" with the type emitted from the aircraft black box, according to the Australian ex-military chief in charge of the hunt.

China's official Xinhua news agency reported Saturday that a black box detector on board the Chinese search ship had picked up a signal at a frequency of 37.5kHz.

The Underwater Acoustic Beacons on the MH370 flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder both operate at that frequency, a spokesman for Honeywell Aerospace, the manufacturers of the black boxes on board the missing plane, told AFP.

Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, head of coordination in the search, said the reported characteristics of the signal "are consistent with the aircraft black box".

A number of white objects were also sighted on the surface about 90 kilometres from the detection area, he said, according to a statement by the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC).

However, he warned: "There is no confirmation at this stage that the signals and the objects are related to the missing aircraft."

In a statement Sunday, the JACC reiterated that the signals had not been verified.

Earlier report

A Chinese patrol ship hunting for a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner detected a pulse signal in the south Indian Ocean on Saturday, the state news agency Xinhua reported, in a possible indicator of the underwater beacon from a plane's "black box".

A black box detector deployed by the vessel Haixun 01 picked up the "ping" signal at around 25 degrees south latitude and 101 degrees east longitude, according to Xinhua.

It has not been established whether the ping is related to Flight MH370, which went missing four weeks ago with 239 people aboard shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.

Xinhua further said a Chinese air force plane spotted a number of white floating objects in the search area.

Australian search authorities also said they had yet to verify whether the pulse signal was related to MH370.

Malaysia said earlier on Saturday it had begun a formal investigation into the jet's March 8 disappearance that would comprise experts from around the world, while the huge hunt for the Boeing 777 airliner intensified in the Indian Ocean.

Normally, a formal air safety investigation is not launched until wreckage is found. But there have been concerns that Malaysia's informal investigations to date have lacked the legal standing of an official inquiry convened under UN rules.

Authorities have not ruled out mechanical problems as a cause but say the evidence, including the loss of communications, suggests Flight MH370 was deliberately diverted thousands of kilometres (miles) from its scheduled route.

Defence and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a news conference that Australia, China, the United States, the United Kingdom and France had agreed to send representatives to take part in the investigation.

The extensive search and rescue operation has so far included assets from around 26 countries.

Under International Civil Aviation Organisation rules, the country where the aircraft is registered leads the investigation when the incident takes place in international waters.

10 military planes, three civilian jets and 11 ships

Four weeks after the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner, searchers on Saturday launched the most intensive hunt yet in the southern Indian Ocean, trying to find the plane's black box recorders before their batteries run out.

Up to 10 military planes, three civilian jets and 11 ships will scour a 217,000-sq-km (88,000-sq-mile) patch of desolate ocean some 1,700 km (1,060 miles) northwest of Perth near where investigators believe the plane went down on March 8 with the loss of all 239 people on board.

"If we haven't found anything in six weeks we will continue because there are a lot of things in the aircraft that will float," Retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the Australian agency coordinating the operation, told reporters.

"Eventually I think something will be found that will help us narrow the search area."

Authorities have not ruled out mechanical problems as a cause but say the evidence, including the loss of communications, suggests Flight MH370 was deliberately diverted thousands of kilometres from its scheduled route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Dozens of flights by a multinational taskforce have so far failed to turn up any trace of the plane, and investigators concede the task has been made more difficult by the lack of data.

Read: US military has spent $3.3m on search: Pentagon

The Boeing 777 was briefly picked up on military radar on the other side of Malaysia and analysis of subsequent hourly electronic "handshakes" exchanged with a satellite led investigators to conclude the plane crashed far off the west Australian coast hours later.

Sonar Search

Sonar equipment on two ships joining the search may help find the plane's black box voice and data recorders that are key to unlocking what happened on the flight. The black box is equipped with a locator beacon that transmits "pings" when underwater, but its batteries may only last 30 days.

Australian authorities said the so-called Towed Pinger Locator will be pulled behind navy ship HMAS Ocean Shield, searching a converging course on a 240-km (150-mile) track with British hydrographic survey ship HMS Echo.

Experts have warned the Towed Pinger Locator may be of little use unless investigators can get a much better idea of exactly where the plane went into the water, because its limited range and the slow speed at which it must be pulled behind the ship mean it cannot cover large areas of ocean quickly.

"I won't even call it an area. What we are doing is we are tracking down the best estimate of the course that the aircraft was on," US Navy Captain Mark Matthews told Reuters. "It takes a couple of days on each leg so it’s a slow-going search."

Read: Malaysia may sue 'false' MH370 media reports

Britain is also sending HMS Tireless, a Trafalgar-class nuclear submarine with sonar capabilities, and a Malaysian frigate was due to arrive in the search area on Saturday.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his Australian counterpart, Tony Abbott, this week toured RAAF Base Pearce, near Perth, from where aircrews seven countries have been operating.

"The world expects us to do our level best, and I'm very confident we will indeed show what we can do together as a group of nations; that we want to find answers, that we want to provide comfort to the families and we will not rest until answers are indeed found," Najib said.
Malaysian authorities have faced heavy criticism, particularly from China, for mismanaging the search and holding back information. Most of the 227 passengers were Chinese.

EARLIER STORIES: Hunt heads underwater

The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in remote seas off Australia headed underwater on Friday, with a U.S. Navy high tech "black box" locator deployed for the first time as the battery life of the cockpit data recorder dwindles.

Australian authorities said the so-called Towed Pinger Locator will be pulled behind navy ship HMAS Ocean Shield, searching a converging course on a 240 km (150 miles) track with British hydrographic survey ship HMS Echo.

"The area of highest probability as to where the aircraft might have entered the water is the area where the underwater search will commence," Retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the Australian agency coordinating the operation, told reporters in Perth.

"On best advice the locator beacon will last about a month before it ceases its transmissions so we're now getting pretty close to the time when it might expire."

On Monday it will be 30 days since the jetliner lost communications and disappeared from civilian radar less than an hour into an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8.

The Boeing 777 was briefly picked up on military radar on the other side of Malaysia and analysis of subsequent hourly electronic "handshakes" exchanged with a satellite led investigators to conclude the plane crashed far off the west Australian coast hours later.

Sonar may help find the plane's black box voice and data recorders that are key to unlocking what happened on the flight. The black box is equipped with a locator beacon that transmits "pings" when underwater, but which only has an expected battery life of around 30 days.

Experts have warned the Towed Pinger Locator may be of little use unless investigators can get a much better idea of exactly where the plane went into water, because its limited range and the slow speed at which it must be pulled behind the ship mean it cannot cover large areas of ocean quickly.

Houston said the start of the underwater search in earnest did not override the need to keep searching for surface wreckage of the plane, as a find would be the most effective way to pinpoint a sub-sea hunt.

"This is a vast area, an area that's quite remote. We will continue the surface search for a good deal more time," he said.

"I think there's still a great possibility of finding something on the surface," he said. "There's lots of things in aircraft that float. In previous searches life jackets have appeared which can be connected to the aircraft that was lost."

HUGE SEARCH AREA

On Friday, up to 14 planes and nine ships were scouring the search area of about 223,000 sq km (86,000 sq miles) - roughly the size of the U.S. state of Minnesota - some 1,680 km (1,040 miles) west-north-west of Perth, he said.

Britain is also sending HMS Tireless, a Trafalgar-class nuclear submarine with sonar capabilities and a Malaysian frigate was due to arrive in the search area on Saturday.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Thursday joined his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott in a tour of RAAF Base Pearce, near Perth, where aircrews from seven countries have been flying dozens of missions deep into the southern Indian Ocean.

Malaysian authorities have faced heavy criticism, particularly from China, for mismanaging the search, now in its fourth fruitless week, and holding back information. Most of the 239 people on board the flight were Chinese.

"The world expects us to do our level best, and I'm very confident we will indeed show what we can do together as a group of nations; that we want to find answers, that we want to provide comfort to the families and we will not rest until answers are indeed found," Najib said.

Authorities have not ruled out mechanical problems as causing the disappearance, but say all the evidence suggests the plane was deliberately diverted from its scheduled route.

Malaysia's police chief said the investigation was focusing on the cabin crew and pilots, after clearing all 227 passengers of possible involvement in hijacking, sabotage or having personal or psychological problems that could have been connected to the disappearance

Malaysia will not rest until MH370 fate is known: PM

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak vowed Thursday "we will not rest" until the fate of Flight MH370 is known, as Australia called it "the most difficult search in human history".

Najib toured the military base in Perth being used as a staging post in the hunt for the Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 239 people that is believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean, and pledged never to give up looking for answers.

"We want to find answers. We want to provide comfort to the families and we will not rest until answers are indeed found," he said, as he thanked those involved in the eight-nation search.

Despite extensive scouring of the remote southern Indian Ocean off Perth, no debris that would indicate a crash site has so far been found.

Najib admitted the exhaustive hunt for the Boeing 777 that vanished on March 8 was a "gargantuan task" but said he was confident the baffling disappearance would be solved.

"I am very confident with the level of professionalism... that indeed in due time we will provide a closure to this event, on this tragedy," he said.

Kuala Lumpur's handling of the crisis has been widely criticised, especially by distraught relatives of the 153 Chinese nationals aboard.

Adding to the frustration for families affected, Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said Wednesday a criminal investigation into what caused the flight to veer from its intended route between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing had so far been inconclusive.

In contrast, Australia's mobilisation since it was handed increased responsibility in the search effort has been praised.

Australia has far more experience than Malaysia of rescue operations, routinely monitoring huge tracts of ocean, but Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the current search was the toughest ever.

"Every day, working on the basis of just small pieces of information, we are putting the jigsaw together. And every day we have a higher degree of confidence that we know more about what happened to this ill-fated flight," he said.

"It is a very difficult search, the most difficult in human history, but as far as Australia is concerned we are throwing everything we have at it."

Missing Flight MH370: Malaysia PM at search base; sub on hunt 

Malaysia's prime minister visited the Australian search base for missing Flight MH370 on Thursday as a nuclear-powered submarine joined the near-four week hunt that has so far failed to find any sign of the missing airliner and the 239 people on board.

Najib Razak joined his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott at RAAF Base Pearce, near Perth, where aircrews from seven countries have been flying dozens of missions deep into the southern Indian Ocean looking for debris from the Malaysia Airlines jet.

"The world expects us to do our level best, and I'm very confident we will indeed show what we can do together as a group of nations; that we want to find answers, that we want to provide comfort to the families and we will not rest until answers are indeed found," said Najib, as the two leaders spoke to search and recovery team at the air base.

The Boeing 777 lost communications and disappeared from civilian radar less than an hour into an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8.

It was briefly picked up on military radar on the other side of Malaysia and analysis of subsequent hourly electronic "pings" sent to a satellite led investigators to conclude the plane crashed far off the west Australian coast hours later.

Retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the Australian agency coordinating the operation, said an international air crash investigation team with analysts from Malaysia, the United States, Britain, China and Australia was continuing to refine the search area.

"Based on that continuing flow of information, the search area is being continually adjusted and today it will be adjusted to move the search area a little bit further to the north," he told Najib and Abbott at the base.

HUGE SEARCH AREA

On Thursday, up to eight planes and nine ships will join the search area of about 223,000 sq km roughly the size of the U.S. state of Minnesota - some 1,680 km west-north-west of Perth, he said.

Britain is also sending HMS Tireless, a Trafalgar-class nuclear submarine with sonar capabilities, to help with the search, Malaysia's transport ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Sonar may help find the plane's "black box" voice and data recorders, which only have an expected battery life of around 30 days and are key to unlocking what happened on the flight.

An Australian navy ship fitted with a US black box detector and unmanned submarine is also on its way to the search area.

But experts have warned the "Towed Pinger Locator" may be of little use unless investigators can get a much better idea of exactly where the plane went into water, because its limited range and the slow speed at which it must be pulled behind the ship mean it cannot cover large areas of ocean quickly.

On Monday it will be 30 days since the plane went missing.

Australia's Abbott warned that the task would not be easy.

"We cannot be certain of success, but we can be certain of the professionalism and the effort that will be brought to the task," he said.

CONTINUED CRITICISM

Najib arrived in Perth with Malaysia coming under fresh fire for its handling of the incident, after authorities there changed their account of the plane's critical last communication.

Malaysia on Tuesday released the full transcript of communications between the cockpit and local air traffic control.

While indicating nothing abnormal, the transcript showed the final words from the cockpit were not the casual "All right, good night" that authorities first reported, but the more standard "Good night Malaysian three seven zero."

Malaysian authorities have faced heavy criticism, particularly from China, for mismanaging the search, now in its fourth fruitless week, and holding back information. Most of the 239 people on board the flight were Chinese.

Authorities have not ruled out mechanical problems as causing the disappearance, but say all the evidence suggests the plane was deliberately diverted from its scheduled route.

Malaysia's police chief said the investigation was focusing on the cabin crew and pilots, after clearing all 227 passengers of possible involvement in hijacking, sabotage or having personal or psychological problems that could have been connected to the disappearance.

Food served inflight probed

Malaysia is focusing its criminal investigation on the cabin crew and pilots of a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, after clearing all 227 passengers of any involvement, the country's police chief was reported as saying on Wednesday.

As investigation continues, the new theory that is being looked into is that the food was poisoned on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

Authorities are probing every lead possible in the hunt to find out what happened to the missing flight, including scrutinising the food and cargo on the plane.

Malaysia’s top police officer Khalid Abu Bakar said that just investigating a load of mangosteens, a leathery-shelled, tropical Asian fruit, proved to be a difficult exercise.

“For example when we knew there was a load of mangosteens on board we had to find out where the mangosteens came from,” he said. “We tracked down who plucked the fruits, who packed them and shipped them out, who put them on the plane.”

“Imagine how many people we must interview and that was just the mangosteens,” he said.

Investigators had to also track down who was buying the fruit to make sure all leads were covered.

"Investigations may go on and on and on. We have to clear every little thing," he said.

"At the end of the investigations, we may not even know the real cause. We may not even know the reason for this incident."

Malaysia narrows criminal probe to crew

Malaysia is focusing its criminal investigation on the cabin crew and pilots of a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, after clearing all 227 passengers of any involvement, the country's police chief was reported as saying on Wednesday.

National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the passengers had been cleared of possible involvement in hijacking, sabotage or having personal or psychological problems that could have been connected to the flight's disappearance on March 8.

"They have been cleared of the four," he was quoted as saying by state news agency Bernama.

Khalid could not be reached by Reuters for comment and the country's home minister declined to confirm the report.

Malaysian authorities have still not ruled out mechanical problems as causing the disappearance, but say evidence suggests the plane was deliberately diverted from its scheduled route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Investigators believe that someone with detailed knowledge of both the Boeing 777-200ER and commercial aviation navigation switched off the plane's communications systems before diverting it thousands of miles off its scheduled course.

That has turned the focus of investigations onto the two pilots, 53-year-old captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and his co-pilot, 27-year old Fariq Abdul Hamid.

But the police say their investigation into the men has failed to turn up any red flags. The FBI helped Malaysian authorities analyse data from Zaharie's personal flight simulator but found nothing suspicious.

Search teams in the southern Indian Ocean are in a race against time to locate the plane's black box recorder, which has an expected battery life of around 30 days and may well contain the key to understanding the plane's mysterious disappearance.

"We are focusing on the pilots but we can't get much clarity until we have the black box," one senior police source said.

Police say mystery may never be solved

Malaysia's top police official warned Wednesday that authorities may never learn what caused the mysterious disappearance of flight MH370, as he indicated a three-week-old criminal investigation has so far been inconclusive.

"Give us more time," Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

"We may not even know the real cause of this incident."

The sober assessment is unlikely to go down well with anxious family members of the missing passengers, especially Chinese relatives who have fiercely attacked Malaysia's government and the airline as incompetent "liars" and "murderers".

Two thirds of the 227 passengers were Chinese.

Malaysian police have said they were investigating the backgrounds of all 239 people on board the Malaysia Airlines jet, who included 12 crew members, as well as ground crew and flight engineers.

 Their criminal probe has focused on the possibility of a hijacking, sabotage or psychological problems among passengers or crew.

Khalid said police had recorded more than 170 statements so far.

"This investigation is ongoing. There are still more people we need to interview," he said, declining to provide further details while the probe was under way.

 The Boeing 777 disappeared on March 8 shortly after take-off on an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The flight's captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, have come under particularly scrutiny as Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately diverted by someone on board.

But no evidence has emerged to suggest a motive by either of the men, who appear to have been well-regarded by their peers.

Malaysian police and FBI experts were examining a flight simulator assembled by Zaharie at his home, hoping to find any clues.

But Khalid said he was still awaiting feedback from experts examining the simulator, adding that so far nothing conclusive had emerged.

A multi-nation search for wreckage from the plane is under way in the Indian Ocean after Malaysia said satellite data indicated it may have gone down there.

British submarine and Oscar-winning director's jet join the hunt

The protracted search for missing Flight MH370 was boosted Wednesday by the arrival of a British submarine in the Indian Ocean ahead of a visit to Australia by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak

The personal jet of Oscar-winning New Zealand movie director Peter Jackson is also now reportedly being used in the multinational hunt for the plane that vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board.

Despite extensive scouring of remote Indian Ocean waters by planes and ships southwest of Perth where Malaysia believes the plane went down, nothing has been found so far that would indicate a crash site.

"No significant developments to report," the Australian Maritime Safety Authority tweeted after 10 planes returned from flying sorties on Tuesday evening in a now familiar update on drawing a blank.

But in a boost to the search effort, Britain's Royal Navy said submarine HMS Tireless has arrived in the area and "with her advanced underwater search capability will be able to contribute to the attempts to locate the missing plane".

While planes, ships and helicopters have all been deployed, it is the first submarine to be drafted in.

Britain's HMS Echo is also due in the search zone shortly to assist Australia's Ocean Shield naval vessel, which is fitted with a US-supplied "black box" detector and is expected to arrive on Friday.

The battery-powered signal from the black box -- which records flight data and cockpit voice communications that could indicate what happened to the plane -- usually lasts only about 30 days, with time fast running out to find it.Australia has warned against expectations of quick success in the difficult task of recovering the black box from the deep and vast seas.

Retired Australian air chief marshal Angus Houston, who is heading a new coordination centre in Perth, reiterated Wednesday that the odds were stacked against them.

"The reality is it's the most complex and challenging search and recovery operation I've ever seen," he told national radio.

"If we don't find anything on the surface, we'll have to think about what we do next."

Najib due in Perth

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib is due in Perth on Wednesday evening to tour the air base being used as a staging post and meet with his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott, as well as Houston.

EARLIER STORIES:

Full audio transcript communication between cockpit, ATC revealed

Malaysian authorities on Tuesday released their full transcript of the audio communications between Flight 370's cockpit and air traffic controllers before the plane disappeared March 8. The conversation, heavy with aviation shorthand, is in English with the one Indonesian comment meaning, "Good morning." The conversation, as it was released, between the cockpit and various units of air traffic control, Delivery, Ground, Tower, Approach and Radar, the time the audio was recorded, and what was spoken:

Cockpit at 12:25:53: Delivery MAS 370 Good Morning
Delivery at 12:26:02: MAS 370 Standby and Malaysia Six is cleared to Frankfurt via AGOSA Alpha Departure six thousand feet squawk two one zero six
Delivery at 12:26:19: ... MAS 370 request level
Cockpit at 12:26:21: MAS 370 we are ready requesting flight level three five zero to Beijing
Delivery at 12:26:39: MAS 370 is cleared to Beijing via PIBOS A Departure Six Thousand Feet squawk two one five seven
Cockpit at 12:26:45: Beijing PIBOS A Six Thousand Squawk two one five seven MAS 370 Thank You
Delivery at 12:26:53: MAS 370 Welcome over to ground
Cockpit at 12:26:55: Good Day
Cockpit at 12:27:27: Ground MAS370 Good morning Charlie One Requesting push and start
Ground at 12:27:34: MAS370 Lumpur Ground Morning Push back and start approved Runway 32 Right Exit via Sierra 4
Cockpit at 12:27:40: Push back and start approved 32 Right Exit via Sierra 4 POB 239 Mike Romeo Oscar
Ground at 12:27:45: Copied
Cockpit at 12:32:13: MAS377 request taxi.
Ground at 12:32:26: MAS37..... (garbled) ... standard route. Hold short Bravo
Ground at 12:32:30: Ground, MAS370. You are unreadable. Say again.
Ground at 12:32:38: MAS370 taxi to holding point Alfa 11 Runway 32 Right via standard route. Hold short of Bravo.
Cockpit at 12:32:42: Alfa 11 Standard route Hold short Bravo MAS370.
Ground at 12:35:53: MAS 370 Tower
Ground at 12:36:19: (garbled) ... Tower ... (garbled)
Cockpit (no time given): 1188 MAS370 Thank you
Cockpit at 12:36:30: Tower MAS370 Morning
Tower at 12:36:38: MAS370 good morning. Lumpur Tower. Holding point.. (garbled)..10 32 Right
Cockpit at 12:36:50: Alfa 10 MAS370
Tower at 12:38:43: 370 line up 32 Right Alfa 10.
Cockpit (no time given): Line up 32 Right Alfa 10 MAS370.
Tower at 12:40:38: 370 32 Right Cleared for take-off. Good night.
Cockpit (no time given): 32 Right Cleared for take-off MAS370. Thank you Bye.
Cockpit at 12:42:05: Departure Malaysian Three Seven Zero
Approach at 12:42:10: Malaysian Three Seven Zero selamat pagi identified. Climb flight level one eight zero cancel SID turn right direct to IGARI
Cockpit at 12:42:48: Okay level one eight zero direct IGARI Malaysian one err Three Seven Zero
Approach at 12:42:52: Malaysian Three Seven Zero contact Lumpur Radar One Three Two Six good night
Cockpit (no time given): Night One Three Two Six Malaysian Three Seven Zero
Cockpit at 12:46:51: Lumpur Control Malaysian Three Seven Zero
Radar at 12:46:51: Malaysian Three Seven Zero Lumpur radar Good Morning climb flight level two five zero
Cockpit at 12:46:54: Morning level two five zero Malaysian Three Seven Zero
Radar at 12:50:06: Malaysian Three Seven Zero climb flight level three five zero
Cockpit at 12:50:09: Flight level three five zero Malaysian Three Seven Zero
Cockpit at 01:01:14: Malaysian Three Seven Zero maintaining level three five zero
Radar at 01:01:19: Malaysian Three Seven Zero
Cockpit at 01:07:55: Malaysian...Three Seven Zero maintaining level three five zero
Radar at 01:08:00 Malaysian Three Seven Zero
Radar at 01:19:24: Malaysian Three Seven Zero contact Ho Chi Minh 120 decimal 9 Good Night
Cockpit at 01:19:29: Good Night Malaysian Three Seven Zero
 

READ MORE: Malaysia says may sue over 'false' MH370 media reports


Malaysia changes last words from missing plane, hunt goes on

The last words from the cockpit of a missing Malaysian jet were a standard "Good night Malaysian three seven zero", Malaysian authorities said, changing their account of the critical last communication from a more casual "All right, good night."

The correction more than three weeks after Flight MH370 vanished with 239 people on board was made as Malaysian authorities face heavy criticism, particularly from China, for mismanaging the search and holding back information.

Painstaking analysis of radar data and limited satellite information has focused the search on a vast, inhospitable swath of the southern Indian Ocean west of the Australian city of Perth, but has so far failed to spot any sign of the jetliner.
Search coordinators warned the hunt could drag on for some time yet.

"In this case, the last known position was a long, long way from where the aircraft appears to have gone," retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the Australian agency  coordinating the operation, told reporters in Perth.

"It's very complex, it's very demanding and we don't have hard information like we might normally have," he said.

The Boeing 777 disappeared from civilian radar in the early hours of March 8 as it flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Minutes later its communications were cut off and it turned back across Malaysia and headed towards the Indian Ocean.

Malaysia says the plane was likely diverted deliberately, probably by a skilled aviator, leading to speculation of involvement by one or more of the pilots. Investigators, however, have determined no apparent motive or other red flags among the 227 passengers and 12 crew.

"We would like to confirm that the last conversation in the transcript between the air traffic controller and the cockpit is at 0119 (Malaysian Time) and is "Good night Malaysian three seven zero," the Department of Civil Aviation said in a statement late on Monday.

Malaysia's ambassador to China told Chinese families in Beijing as early as March 12 that the last words had been "All right, good night". About two-thirds of the passengers on board were Chinese.

The statement said authorities were still conducting "forensic investigation" to determine whether the last words from the cockpit were by the pilot or the co-pilot. Malaysia Airlines had previously said the words were believed to have come from the co-pilot.

SEARCH GOES ON


Nine ships and 10 aircraft resumed the hunt for wreckage from MH370 on Tuesday, hoping to recover more than fishing gear  and other flotsam found since Australian authorities moved the search 1,100 km north after new analysis of radar and satellite data.

Houston said the challenging search, in an area the size of Ireland, would continue based on the imperfect information with which they had to work.

"But, inevitably, if we don't find any wreckage on the surface, we are eventually going to have to, probably in consultation with everybody who has a stake in this, review what to do next," he said.

Using faint, hourly satellite signals gathered by British firm Inmarsat PLC and radar data from early in its flight, investigators have only estimates of the speed the aircraft was travelling and no certainty of its altitude, Houston said.

Satellite imagery of the new search area had not given "anything better than low confidence of finding anything",     said Mick Kinley, another search official in Perth.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak will travel to Perth on Wednesday to see the operations first hand.

Among the vessels due to join the search in the coming days is an Australian defence force ship, the Ocean Shield, that has been fitted with a sophisticated U.S. black box locator and an underwater drone.

Time is running out because the signal transmitted by the missing aircraft's black box will die about 30 days after a crash due to limited battery life, leaving investigators with a vastly more difficult task. (Reuters)

Malaysia struggles with credibility after new revision

It may mean little to investigators that the last words air traffic controllers heard from the lost jetliner were "Good night, Malaysian three-seven-zero," rather than "All right, good night." But to Malaysian officials whose credibility has been questioned almost from the beginning, it means a great deal.

Malaysian officials said more than two weeks ago that "All right, good night," were the last words, and that the co-pilot uttered them. They changed the account late Monday and said they are still investigating who it was that spoke. The discrepancy added to the confusion and frustration families of the missing already felt more than three weeks after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared, and as of Tuesday officials had not explained how they got it wrong.

"This sort of mistake hits at the heart of trust in their communications. If Malaysia is changing what the pilot said, people start thinking, 'What are they going to change next?" said Hamish McLean, an expert in risk and crisis communication at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia.

"Information is in a crisis is absolutely critical. When we are dealing with such a small amount of information its needs to be handled very carefully," he said.

Authorities have been forced on the defensive by the criticism, the most forceful of which has come from a group of Chinese relatives who accuse them of lying about — or even involvement in — the plane's disappearance. In part responding to domestic political criticism, defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein has taken to retweeting supportive comments on Twitter. He has twice in recent days proclaimed that "history would judge us well" over the handling of the crisis.

The government's opponents disagree. Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said the correction set off a "medley of shame, sadness and anger" and strengthened the case for creating an opposition-led parliamentary committee to investigate the government's performance in the search.

The communications skills of any government or airline would have been severely tested by the search for the Boeing 777-200 and its 239 passengers and crew. So far not a scrap of debris has been found.

"There has been very little to tell and a lot of unanswered questions," said Andrew Herdman, director-general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines. "There is frustration on the lack of new information, frustration over progress with investigations and the search. That frustration is being channeled to the Malaysian authorities but I think it's a bit premature to use that to reflect adversely on how they are doing."

Still, the government's handling of information has at times fed perceptions that it was holding back. From the first day of the search, crews were looking far to the west of the plane's last point of contact with air-traffic controllers, but it took about a week for officials to explain that radar had detected the plane in the area.

"There are some things that I can tell you and some things that I can't," Malaysia's civil aviation chief said cryptically in the early days of the search.

"That was a terrible, terrible response," said Lyall Mercer, the principal of Australian-based Mercer PR, a public relations company. "It says to the families that 'we know things that we are not going to share' and that 'something else is more important than you'."

The piece of information that families most want to hear — whether their relatives are alive or dead — has remained impossible to say with finality, creating a dilemma for the government.

On March 24, it tried to address that. Malaysia Airlines officials met families in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing and sent a text message to others saying "we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived."

At a news conference half an hour later, Prime Minister Najib Razak was less direct. He said with "deep sadness and regret" that the plane's last known position was "a remote location, far from any possible landing sites," and that the flight "ended" in the southern Indian Ocean.

Sarah Bacj, a 48-year-old American expatriate teacher whose boyfriend, Philip Wood, was on the flight, said the decision by Malaysia Airlines to inject some certainty into the fate of the passengers was a mistake. Until then, she said she thought the Malaysian government had acted responsibly, but the text message "totally violated my trust."

"I fell off the cliff," Bacj said. "The way the text message came, I expected proof. That they had found the bodies, or that they had found confirmed wreckage, or something ...  but they didn't actually tell us anything at all. The only thing they did was make a judgment statement about evidence — unconfirmed evidence, mind you."

The final words from the cockpit, and who said them, are of interest not only because there are few other clues to the disappearance, but because the communication occurred just a minute before the plane's transponders were shut off. The words were in English, as aviation communications are around the world.

PR experts and professionals said the important thing now is to try and give the families as much information as possible, before the media gets hold of it, and to keep paying attention to them even when the media gaze had drifted.

On Tuesday, the Malaysian government announced that technical experts from Malaysia, China and Australia would brief the families in a closed-door session in Kuala Lumpur. (AP)

Malaysia says may sue over 'false' MH370 media reports

Malaysia's authoritarian government, which has been under harsh global scrutiny over the handling of its missing-plane drama, said Tuesday it would compile "false" media reports over the crisis and consider filing lawsuits.

Transport and Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on his Twitter feed the country's attorney general had been instructed to "compile evidence and advise" on possible legal action.

Earlier in the day Hishammuddin was quoted by the Malay Mail newspaper as saying: "We have been compiling all the false reports since day one. When the time is right, the government should sue them."

The MH370 saga and resulting world attention has put Malaysia's long-ruling government -- which muzzles its own pliant mainstream press -- in the unaccustomed position of having to answer tough questions from reporters.

Hishammuddin, who has run the government's near-daily briefings on the situation, has repeatedly denied various anonymously-sourced reports revealing details of Malaysia's investigation into the March 8 disappearance of MH370 with 239 people aboard.

He took particular aim on Monday against British tabloid the Daily Mail, which at the weekend quoted a "source close to the family" of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah as saying police had learned he was emotionally unstable before the flight amid alleged marital trouble.

"I can confirm to you that the information did not come from the police and you should ask Daily Mail how they get the information," Hishammuddin said tersely when asked about the report.

In a Facebook comment reported by local media, Zaharie's daughter Aishah Zaharie accused the Daily Mail of "making up" the report.

The Daily Mail also reported earlier that Zaharie was said to be a fanatical supporter of Malaysia's political opposition. Friends and acquaintances have denied that.

Suspicions have fallen on Zaharie, 53, and his co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid after Malaysian officials said the plane was believed to have been deliberately diverted by someone with flying knowledge. But nothing has emerged to suggest either had any motive to go rogue.

The ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in power since independence in 1957 has a poor record of transparency, routinely sweeping corruption scandals and other embarrassments under the rug.

Malaysia's independent web-based news organisations are largely unfettered due to a promise by the government in the 1990s not to censor the Internet, but their reporters say they are routinely harassed or blocked from government press briefings.

We cannot let another aircraft simply vanish, says Iata chief

Highlighting the need for collective action by government and industry to focus on partnerships, data analysis and runway safety in the ongoing quest to make flying even safer, the head of International Air Transport Association (Iata) has said that the world must never let another aircraft go missing in the way Malaysia Airlines’ flight MH370 has been for over three weeks now.

Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation Director General Azharuddin Abdul Rahman speaks during the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Ops Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (AP)

Tony Tyler, Director General and CEO, Iata, made the call in a keynote address at the opening of the Iata OPS Conference, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Speaking amid the ongoing massive search efforts for Flight MH370, Tyler also committed Iata to facilitate a unified industry position on global tracking of aircraft and called on governments to make more effective use of passenger data.

“Speculation will not make flying any safer. We should not jump to any conclusions on probable cause before the investigation into MH370 closes. There are, however, at least two areas of process – aircraft tracking and passenger data – where there are clearly challenges that need to be overcome,” said Tyler.

He noted that the MH370 case has highlighted the need to improve the in-flight tracking of aircraft. “In a world where our every move seems to be tracked, there is disbelief both that an aircraft could simply disappear and that the flight data and cockpit voice recorders are so difficult to recover. Air France 447 brought similar issues to light a few years ago and some progress was made. But that must be accelerated. We cannot let another aircraft simply vanish,” said Tyler.

However, he stressed that the aviation industry continues to offer one of the safest modes of modern transportation. “In 2013, there were over 29 million flights operated on Western-built jet aircraft, with 12 hull losses. That is one accident for every 2.4 million flights and a 14.6 per cent improvement on the five-year industry average. Accidents are rare, but the current search for MH370 is a reminder that we can never be complacent on safety. It may well a long time before we know exactly what happened on that flight. But it is already clear that we must never let another aircraft go missing in this way. And it is equally clear that governments must make better use of the passenger data that they mandate airlines to provide,” said Tyler.

“In our eagerness to move this along, we must also ensure that prudent decisions are made in line with global standards. This is not the time for hastily prepared sales pitches or regional solutions. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) process is the way to move this forward. I have no doubt that governments are eager to come to a conclusion and take action as soon as possible,” said Tyler.

“Industry must – and will – play a role in supporting ICAO in this effort with a united position. Iata will convene an expert task force that will include ICAO participation to ensure that the work is well coordinated. This group will examine all of the options available for tracking commercial aircraft against the parameters of implementation, investment, time and complexity to achieve the desired coverage. This group will report its conclusions by December 2014, reflecting the need for urgent action and careful analysis,” said Tyler.

He urged authorities to remember that passenger-check cannot be solely the airlines’ responsibility. “It is important to remember that airlines are not border guards or policemen. The checking of passports is the well-established responsibility of governments. The industry goes to great effort and expense to ensure that governments have reliable information about passengers before an aircraft takes off (Advance Passenger Information or API).  Governments need to review their processes for vetting and using this data, such as Interpol’s stolen and lost passport database. This information is critical and it must be used effectively,” said Tyler.

“No matter how hard we may compete within an industry sector or how differently we may see the world when it comes to thorny commercial issues, we are an industry that is absolutely unified in its dedication to global standards and safety,” said Tyler. “That has allowed us to evolve a tradition of transparently sharing information, experiences and best practices to make flying ever safer.”

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