Malaysia Airlines Missing Plane: Radar Data Suggests Jet Flew Deliberately Toward Andaman Islands, Sources Say

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KUALA LUMPUR, March 14 (Reuters) - An investigation into the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner is focusing more on a suspicion of foul play, as evidence suggests it was diverted hundreds of miles off course, sources familiar with the Malaysian probe said.

In a far more detailed description of military radar plotting than has been publicly revealed, two sources told Reuters an unidentified aircraft that investigators suspect was missing Flight MH370 appeared to be following a commonly used navigational route when it was last spotted early on Saturday, northwest of Malaysia.

That course - headed into the Andaman Sea and towards the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean - could only have been set deliberately, either by flying the Boeing 777-200ER jet manually or by programming the auto-pilot.

A third investigative source said inquiries were focusing more on the theory that someone who knew how to fly a plane deliberately diverted the flight hundreds of miles off its scheduled course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

"What we can say is we are looking at sabotage, with hijack still on the cards," said the source, a senior Malaysian police official.

One of the most baffling mysteries in the history of modern aviation remains unsolved after nearly a week.

The latest radar evidence is consistent with the expansion of the search for the aircraft to the west of Malaysia, possibly as far as the Indian Ocean.

There has been no trace of the plane nor any sign of wreckage as the navies and military aircraft of more than a dozen countries scour the seas across Southeast Asia.

Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he could not confirm the last heading of the plane or if investigators were focusing on sabotage.

"A normal investigation becomes narrower with time ... as new information focuses the search, but this is not a normal investigation," he told a news conference. "In this case, the information has forced us to look further and further afield."

Investigators were still looking at "four or five" possibilities, including a diversion that was intentional or under duress, or an explosion, he said. Police would search the pilot's home if necessary and were still investigating all 239 passengers and crew on the plane, he added.

INDIAN OCEAN "BIGGEST CHALLENGE"

If the jetliner did stray into the Indian Ocean, a vast expanse with depths of more than 7,000 metres (23,000 feet), the task faced by searchers would become dramatically more difficult. Winds and currents could shift any surface debris tens of nautical miles within hours, dramatically widening the search area with each passing day.

"Ships alone are not going to get you that coverage, helicopters are barely going to make a dent in it and only a few countries fly P-3s (long-range search aircraft)," William Marks, spokesman for the U.S. Seventh Fleet, told Reuters.

"So this massive expanse of water space will be the biggest challenge."

The U.S. Navy was sending an advanced P-8A Poseidon plane to help search the Strait of Malacca, a busy sealane separating the Malay Peninsula from the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It had already deployed a Navy P-3 Orion aircraft to those waters.

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

"It's my understanding that based on some new information that's not necessarily conclusive - but new information - an additional search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters in Washington.

Carney did not specify the nature of the new information.

Satellites picked up faint electronic pulses from the aircraft after it went missing on Saturday, but the signals gave no immediate information about where the jet was heading and little else about its fate, two sources close to the investigation said on Thursday.

U.S. experts are still examining the data to see if any information about its last location could be extracted, a source close to the investigation told Reuters. Malaysia's civil aviation chief confirmed on Friday the government was working with U.S. investigators to establish if there was any satellite information that could help locate the airliner.

LAST RADAR SIGHTING

The last sighting of the aircraft on civilian radar screens came shortly before 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, less than an hour after take-off. It was flying as scheduled across the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand on the eastern side of peninsular Malaysia, heading towards Beijing.

However, Malaysia's air force chief said on Wednesday that an aircraft that could have been the missing plane was plotted on military radar at 2:15 a.m., 200 miles (320 km) northwest of Penang Island off Malaysia's west coast.

This position marks the limit of Malaysia's military radar in that part of the country, a fourth source familiar with the investigation told Reuters.

Malaysia says it has asked neighbouring countries for their radar data, but has not confirmed receiving the information. Indonesian and Thai authorities said on Friday they had not received an official request for such data from Malaysia.

The fact that the plane - if it was MH370 - had lost contact with air traffic control and was invisible to civilian radar suggested someone on board had turned off its communication systems, the first two sources said.

They also gave new details on the direction in which the unidentified aircraft was heading - following aviation corridors identified on maps used by pilots as N571 and P628 - routes taken by commercial planes flying from Southeast Asia to the Middle East or Europe.

Hishammuddin said it remained unclear if that aircraft was MH370. "We need to get verification and we are working very closely with the experts," he said.

MILITARY DEPLOYMENT GROWS

Ships and aircraft are now combing a vast area that had already been widened to cover both sides of the Malay Peninsula and the Andaman Sea.

An already difficult search task has been complicated in some areas by a choking haze caused by burning forest and farmland that has enveloped much of Malaysia and spilled into the Strait of Malacca. The haze, exacerbated by a prolonged dry spell, has reached hazardous levels in several spots.

"The haze will affect the search and rescue operations for sure. The visibility at the ground level has dropped to less than 3 km (1.9 miles)," Amirzudi Hashim, a senior meteorologist at the National Weather Center, told Reuters.

India had deployed ships, planes and helicopters from the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands, at the juncture of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, an Indian military spokesman, Harmeet Singh, said on Friday.

Two Dornier aircraft were searching the land mass of the Andaman and Nicobar islands, a total area of 720 km by 52 km, Singh said.

China, which had more than 150 citizens on board the missing plane, has deployed four warships, four coastguard vessels, eight aircraft and trained 10 satellites on a wide search area. Chinese media have described the ship deployment as the largest Chinese rescue fleet ever assembled.

The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records of any commercial aircraft in service. Its only previous fatal crash came on July 6 last year when Asiana Airlines Flight 214 struck a seawall with its undercarriage on landing in San Francisco. Three people died.

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The Wall Street Journal reports on a potential clue in the plane investigation:

A “partial ping” received eight minutes after a final complete transmission between Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and an orbiting satellite began on the missing jet, in the latest clue that could help investigators unravel what happened to the jet before it stopped flying.

The final partial transmission from the missing Boeing Co. 777-200ER, which disappeared from civilian radar on March 8, “originates with the aircraft for reasons not understood,” said Chris McLaughlin, senior vice president of Inmarsat PLC, which operates the satellite.

Read the full story here.

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Chicago-based law firm Ribbeck Law Chtd., representing the father of a passenger on MH370, filed a request in Illinois state court on Tuesday seeking Malaysia Airlines and Boeing's records on the missing plane, Bloomberg reports.

Januari Siregar, father of passenger Firman Chandra Siregar, has requested 26 types of data, including information about the maintenance of the jet, the crew's training, and any cargo on board, according to the report.

Read the full story here.

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Wired explains that U.S. Navy underwater microphones may be essential to the MH370 search now that authorities are looking in an area of the southern Indian Ocean in places as deep as 23,000 feet.

From Wired:

The 70-pound tow fish, which is formally known in true Pentagon style as Towed Pinger Locator 25, is a hydrodynamic microphone designed specifically to listen for the acoustic signal of the data and cockpit voice recorders carried aboard all commercial and military aircraft. It can track the devices to depths of 20,000 feet.

The U.S. has deployed a pair of tow fish to a Royal Australian Navy Rescue Ship, which will drag them through the search area looking for pings from the missing plane's flight data recorder, according to Wired.

Read the full report here.

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The Washington Post reports that Chinese officials are concerned that relatives grieving the disappearance of flight MH370 could redirect their anger from Malaysia onto China.

From The Washington Post:

At a meeting of provincial officials last week, according to people who were in the room, they discussed preventing a larger movement from forming out of the passengers’ families.

While the families' outrage and frustration is genuinely targeted at Malaysian authorities, China is taking care to make sure it stays that way, the Post notes.

At a rare-sanctioned protest at the Malaysian embassy in Beijing on Tuesday, plainclothes men who did not appear to be family members came to rally the protesters, according to the Post:

In the meantime, in one bus, a man with a loudspeaker prepared the relatives. “We don’t have any contradictions with the Chinese government, right?” he yelled into the loudspeaker, waiting for them to yell back “right!” “We don’t have any contradictions with the media, right?”

Read the full story here.

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Relatives of passengers on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 protest outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing on March 25, 2014. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

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From the Associated Press:

Malaysia Airlines says it is providing comprehensive support for the families of the 239 people aboard Flight 370.

FOOD AND LODGING: Hotel, transportation, meals and other expenses have been provided for up to five family members per passenger since the flight disappeared March 8, and the airline intends to continue the support as long as families require it.

FINANCIAL HELP: The airline provided US,000 per passenger to the next of kin initially and will offer more payments as the search for the jetliner continues.

ROUND-THE-CLOCK CARE: It has assigned more than 700 caregivers — including two per family — to offer support and counseling to families on a 24-hour basis.

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When Malaysia Airlines Flight #370 disappeared on March 8, it carried 227 passengers and 12 crew members. The youngest passenger was 2-year-old Yan Zhang, the oldest was 79-year-old Baotang Lou.

Click here to view the entire passenger/crew manifest.

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By: Tan Sri Md Nor Md Yusof, Chairman of Malaysia Airlines

As you will be aware, last night the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najjib Razak, announced new evidence regarding the disappearance of MH370 on 8th March.

Based on this evidence, the Prime Minister’s message was that we must accept the painful reality that the aircraft is now lost and that none of the passengers or crew on board survived.

This is a sad and tragic day for all of us at Malaysia Airlines. While not entirely unexpected after an intensive multi-national search across a 2.24 million square mile area, this news is clearly devastating for the families of those on board. They have waited for over two weeks for even the smallest hope of positive news about their loved ones.

This has been an unprecedented event requiring an unprecedented response. The investigation still underway may yet prove to be even longer and more complex than it has been since March 8th. But we will continue to support the families – as we have done throughout. And to support the authorities as the search for definitive answers continues. I will now ask our Group Chief Executive¸ Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, to provide you will with fuller details of our support for the families.

By: Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, Group Chief Executive Officer, Malaysia Airlines

I stand before you today not only as the Group Chief Executive Officer of Malaysia Airlines, but also as a parent, as a brother, as a son. My heart breaks to think of the unimaginable pain suffered by all the families. There are no words which can ease that pain. Everyone in the Malaysia Airlines family is praying for the 239 souls on MH370 and for their loved ones on this dark day. We extend our prayers and sincere condolences.

We all feel enormous sorrow and pain. Sorrow that all those who boarded Flight MH370 on Saturday 8th March, will not see their families again. And that those families will now have to live on without those they love. It must be remembered too that 13 of our own colleagues and fellow Malaysians were also on board.

And let me be very clear on the events of yesterday evening. Our sole and only motivation last night was to ensure that in the incredibly short amount of time available to us, the families heard the tragic news before the world did. Wherever humanly possible, we did so in person with the families or by telephone, using SMS only as an additional means of ensuring fully that the nearly 1,000 family members heard the news from us and not from the media.

Ever since the disappearance of Flight MH370 Malaysia Airlines’ focus has been to comfort and support the families of those involved and support the multi-national search effort. We will continue to do this, while we also continue to support the work of the investigating authorities in the Southern Indian Ocean.

Like everyone else, we are waiting for news from those authorities. We know that while there have been an increasing number of apparent leads, definitive identification of any piece of debris is still missing. It is impossible to predict how long this will take. But after 17 days, the announcement made last night and shared with the families is the reality which we must now accept. When Malaysia Airlines receives approval from the investigating authorities, arrangements will be made to bring the families to the recovery areas if they so wish. Until that time, we will continue to support the ongoing investigation. And may I express my thanks to the Government and all of those involved in this truly global search effort.

In the meantime, Malaysia Airlines’ overwhelming focus will be the same as it has been from the outset – to provide the families with a comprehensive support programme. Through a network of over 700 dedicated caregivers, the loved ones of those on board have been provided with two dedicated caregivers for each family, providing care, support and counsel. We are now supporting over 900 people under this programme and in the last 72 hours, we have trained an additional 40 caregivers to ensure the families have access to round-the-clock support.

In addition, hotel accommodation for up to five family members per passenger, transportation, meals and others expenses have been provided since 8th March and that will continue.

Malaysia Airlines has already provided initial financial assistance of USD 5,000 per passenger to the next of kin. We recognize that financial support is not the only consideration. But the prolonged search is naturally placing financial strain on the relatives. We are therefore preparing to offer additional payments as the search continues.

This unprecedented event in aviation history has made the past 18 days the greatest challenge to face our entire team at Malaysia Airlines. I have been humbled by the hard work, dedication, heartfelt messages of concern and offers of support from our remarkable team. We do not know why, and we do not know how this terrible tragedy happened. But as the Malaysia Airlines family, we are all praying for the passengers and crew of Flight MH370.

For past statements, click here.

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Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya was asked at a press conference whether he would resign following the disappearance of Flight #370. Yahya said it was a personal decision, and one he would make at a later date, Reuters reported.

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Malaysia Airlines CEO said Tuesday during a press conference, "We do not know why. We do not know how. We do not know why this terrible tragedy happened."

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An Australian official said Tuesday in a press conference: "We're not looking for a needle in a haystack, we're still trying to define where the haystack is."

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Australia's Defense Minister said Tuesday that at this point, no debris has been successfully identified or recovered.

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AFP reports that relatives of Chinese passengers are marching in protest to the Malaysian embassy in Beijing seeking information about the crash:

Around 200 family members, some in tears, linked arms and shouted slogans including "The Malaysian government are murderers" and "We want our relatives back".

The embassy is about four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the Lido Hotel, where meetings have been taking place throughout the drama.

Read more here.

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China wants to know how Malaysia drew the conclusion that the plane was lost with no survivors, AP reports:

China's official Xinhua News Agency on Tuesday quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng as telling the Malaysian ambassador to Beijing that China wanted to know the specific facts that led Malaysia to announce Monday night that the plane had been lost.

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From Reuters:

Britain's Inmarsat used a wave phenomenon discovered in the 19th century to analyze the seven pings its satellite picked up from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 to determine its final destination.

The new findings led Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to conclude on Monday that the Boeing 777, which disappeared more than two weeks ago, crashed thousands of miles away in the southern Indian Ocean, killing all 239 people on board.

The pings, automatically transmitted every hour from the aircraft after the rest of its communications systems had stopped, indicated it continued flying for hours after it disappeared from its flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

From the time the signals took to reach the satellite and the angle of elevation, Inmarsat was able to provide two arcs, one north and one south that the aircraft could have taken.

Inmarsat's scientists then interrogated the faint pings using a technique based on the Doppler effect, which describes how a wave changes frequency relative to the movement of an observer, in this case the satellite, a spokesman said.

The Doppler effect is why the sound of a police car siren changes as it approaches and then overtakes an observer.

Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch was also involved in the analysis.

"We then took the data we had from the aircraft and plotted it against the two tracks, and it came out as following the southern track," Jonathan Sinnatt, head of corporate communications at Inmarsat, said.

The company then compared its theoretical flight path with data received from Boeing 777s it knew had flown the same route, he said, and it matched exactly.

The findings were passed to another satellite company to check, he said, before being released to investigators on Monday.

The paucity of data - only faint pings received by a single satellite every hour or so - meant techniques like triangulation using a number of satellites or GPS (Global Positioning System) could not be used to determine the aircraft's flight path.

Read the full story here.

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Searchers are racing to find the plane's black boxes, AP reports:

By law, the boxes must be able to send those signals for at least 30 days following a crash. But experts say they can continue making noise for another 15 days or so beyond that, depending upon the strength of the black box battery at the time of the crash.

Without the black boxes — the common name for the voice and data recorders normally attached to a fuselage — it would be virtually impossible for investigators to definitively say what caused the crash.

Read the full story here.

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From HuffPost:

The text message immediately set off a firestorm, with many on the Internet quick to criticize the airliner for not reaching out to relatives by more appropriate means.

In reality, the decision to text the families may not be as egregious as it seems.

MH370 families have chided Malaysia Airlines, as well as Malaysian government authorities, in part because the news media has continuously received new information about the missing plane before the families over the past two weeks.

Read the rest here.

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From Reuters:

Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng told Malaysia's ambassador in Beijing on Monday that China was demanding Malaysia hand over all relevant satellite data analysis on the missing Malaysian airliner, the Foreign Ministry said.

Xie met the ambassador after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, citing new satellite data, said Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared over two weeks ago en route to Beijing, crashed thousands of miles away in the southern Indian Ocean.

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Boeing is saddened by today's announcement by the prime minister of Malaysia regarding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Our thoughts and deepest sympathies continue to be with the families and loved ones of those aboard. Boeing continues to serve as a technical advisor to the U.S. National Transportation Board.

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Inmarsat, the company whose analysis undergirds today's announcement on flight MH370, explained to SkyNews how it was able to locate the flightpath of the missing plane.

As the company had already announced earlier, its satellites kept receiving hourly signals from the plane despite the fact that the jet's communication systems were switched off. Inmarsat then analyzed data from flights that took a similar path to MH370.

Inmarsat's senior vice president Chris McLoughlin said:

"What we did two weeks ago was say it could be north or it could be south, and what we've done is refined that with the signals we got from other aircraft and that gives you a very good fit."

"Previous aircraft provided a pattern, and that pattern to the south is virtually what we got in our suggested estimate. The fit is very, very strong."

"We passed the information on after it had been peer reviewed by others in the UK air industry and after it had been compared with Boeing."

Head over to SkyNews for the full story.

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BBC Transport Correspondent Richard Westcott tweets from the offices of British satellite company Inmarsat, who provided data analysis to Malaysia on the location of missing flight MH370.

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