Just a few hours after a stunning report from The Wall Street Journal — headlined “U.S. Investigators Suspect Missing Airplane Few On For Hours” — the officials in charge of the investigation say that story’s central premise isn’t true.
The last data received from devices installed in the Rolls Royce engines of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that disappeared on Saturday were transmitted at 1:07 a.m. local time, Malaysia’s acting defense minister told reporters Thursday. That would be a little more than 30 minutes after Beijing-bound Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur. The minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, appeared at a news conference with the airline’s CEO.
If the Malaysian official’s account is correct, then the underpinnings of the Journal‘s story are knocked away. The newspaper reported early Thursday that:
“U.S. investigators suspect that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 stayed in the air for about four hours past the time it reached its last confirmed location, according to two people familiar with the details, raising the possibility that the plane could have flown on for hundreds of additional miles under conditions that remain murky.
“Aviation investigators and national security officials believe the plane flew for a total of five hours, based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the Boeing Co. 777’s engines as part of a routine maintenance and monitoring program.”
As we’ve written, though, the now six-day-old search for Flight 370 and any sign of the 239 people who were aboard has been marked by confusion and conflicting claims from Malaysian officials. The country’s Air Force chief, for example: was quoted as saying radar had tracked the plane flying at least 200 miles west of its intended course; then denied he had said that; then conceded that the Air Force did indeed see radar “blips” that might have been the jet headed west.
Meanwhile, Hussein also told reporters Thursday that Chinese satellite images showing some large objects floating in the South China Sea “did not show any debris” from the missing flight, the BBC reports. The release of those photos late Wednesday prompted speculation that the plane might finally have been found.
So, the search continues on both the eastern side of the Malay Peninsula, in the waters between Malaysia and Vietnam, and on the western side in the Malacca Strait, where the plane might have flown if it did indeed turn west for some reason.
The Journal said in its report that “as part of its maintenance agreements, Malaysia Airlines transmits its engine data live to Rolls-Royce for analysis. The system compiles data from inside the 777’s two Trent 800 engines and transmits snapshots of performance, as well as the altitude and speed of the jet. Those snippets are compiled and transmitted in 30-minute increments, said one person familiar with the system.”
Also at Thursday’s news conference, Malaysian police said reports that the homes of the jet’s pilots had been searched were incorrect.
One other development: The airline announced that “as a mark of respect to the passengers and crew of [Flight] 370,” it is retiring that flight number and that of Flight 371, the return trip from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur. Starting Friday, the Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight’s number will be 318. The Beijing to Kuala Lumpur flight will be No. 319.