The Malaysian government has retracted a pivotal piece of evidence that narrowed the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: the times at which the plane’s transponder and communications devices were shut down.
The Washington Post reports that the Malaysian government has no exact knowledge of when the plane’s transponder, which indicates to civilian aircraft surveillance where the plane is, shut down. Late last week, the Malaysian government told authorities that they had an exact timeline that indicated that two different essential communications mechanisms had been shut down at different times, and that in between the disabling of the two, the pilot spoke to air traffic control.
Now, Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya has told the press that the last automatic transmission to air traffic control occurred anytime between the moment the last automatic transmission was supposed to arrive “and 30 minutes later,” which could put the pilot’s last message, “All right, good night,” before a system shutdown.
The 30-minute difference lowers the likelihood that the pilot himself was involved in diverting the plane. Had the pilot sent that last audio message after the transmissions mechanisms were shut down, the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was virtually the only person who could have had the aviation expertise to shut down the plane and would be guilty of talking to air traffic control without indicating any problems.
This is the second major investigation detail the Malaysian authorities appear to have botched. The Malaysian government denied for days as “inaccurate” the claim by United States investigators that the plane must have flown for up to seven hours after disappearing from civilian radar.
The Malaysian government now appears to believe this is the case, and has offered two potential routes for the plane to have flown: either north towards India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and even as far as Kazakhstan, or south into the ocean near Australia. Australian officials, the Post elaborates, have expanded their role in the search.
The confusion has increased already-palpable tension between Malaysia and other governments. The United States is retiring from the search a major carrier in the Andaman Sea as Malaysian authorities search the coasts near Australia, while many American sources have anonymously expressed frustration through the media for not being more closely involved.
Meanwhile, China continues to demand that Malaysia be more transparent and clear with the information they have. Chinese media outlet Xinhua published another story, in a series of similar stories, in which Chinese government officials express displeasure at the way the Malaysian government has conducted the search. Now, however, it is not just a spokesman, but Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who “asked Malaysia to provide Beijing with more detailed data and information about missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in a timely, accurate and comprehensive manner.” Chinese government spokesman Qin Gang has called the situation “chaotic” and expressed dismay with Malaysia over the past week. Most of the passengers on Flight 370 were Chinese citizens, and the plane was en route to Beijing when it disappeared.