The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. officials involved in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 suspect that the plane may have been flying for up to four hours after its radar signals were shut down. The Malaysian government is denying the possibility, calling the report “inaccurate.”
The report suggests that the plane did not crash but continued to fly for “about four hours” since the last time airports and satellites made contact with the flight. The new time would put the plane in the air for a total of five hours and would radically expand the scope of the search area to include areas like Pakistan or the Arabian Sea, according to officials. The new data is based on information automatically sent to the ground from the plane’s engines to its designer, Rolls Royce. U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal that they are entertaining the possibility that the plane was diverted and hidden “with the intention of using it later for another purpose.”
Malaysian authorities have expanded the scope of the investigation twice, initially shocking those following the story by including the Strait of Malacca in the search, which lies hundreds of miles away from the plane’s designated path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The Malaysian government has called the Wall Street Journal report “inaccurate,” however, and have no apparent plans to expand the scope of the search as far as the Indian Ocean or Pakistan yet. The government recently expanded the scope of the search in that direction, however, stopping at the Andaman Sea. Malaysian authorities have nonetheless admitted to not knowing which way the plane was flying once losing contact with it.
Acting Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein stated in a press conference that the reports were not changing Malaysia’s search plans and that the government felt limited in its search ability: “Without debris, we can’t feel we are making any progress.” Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya also reported that Rolls-Royce and Boeing claimed they had heard nothing from the plane since 1:07 a.m. Saturday.
Should the U.S. claim that the plane may be far into the Indian Ocean lead nowhere, it will be the second in as many days to do so. On Wednesday, Chinese investigators told the national newspaper Xinhua that they had found a break in the case: satellite images from Sunday that appeared to show debris very near the plane’s planned trajectory. Malaysian authorities claimed that the photos were released “by mistake,” and a further search of the area by a multinational search team found no debris in the area in which China claimed to have found clues in satellite images.
Malaysia’s inability to find any concrete clues on where they plane might have gone has caused tension with China. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 had 154 Chinese nationals on board and was headed toward Beijing. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said in press statements the government is pressuring Malaysia to “speed up” the process and that Malaysia’s manner of handling the situation was “very chaotic.”