Missing Malaysian plane: Search area goes from ‘chessboard to football field’

From Jethro Mullen, Barbara Starr and Jim Sciutto, CNN

The more time that passes, the wider the search area for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 becomes.

After starting in the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam, the plane’s last confirmed location, efforts are now expanding west into the vastness of the Indian Ocean.

“It’s a completely new game now,” Cmdr. William Marks of the U.S. 7th Fleet, which is helping in the search, told CNN, describing the situation. “We went from a chess board to a football field.”

USS Kidd, a destroyer from the U.S. Pacific Fleet, is being moved into the Indian Ocean to begin searching that area at the request of the Malaysian government, Marks said.

Malaysian officials, who are coordinating the search, said Friday that the hunt for the plane was spreading deeper into both the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

“A normal investigation becomes narrower with time, I understand, as new information focuses the search,” said Hishammuddin Hussein, the minister in charge of defense and transportation. “But this is not a normal investigation. In this case, the information we have forces us to look further and further afield.”

The broadening scale of the search comes amid disclosures of information indicating that the missing airplane could have flown for several hours after the last reading from its transponder, a radio transmitter in the cockpit that communicates with ground radar. That raises the possibility that the plane could have ended up thousands of miles from its last confirmed contact over Southeast Asia.

The disappearance of the jetliner and the 239 people on board nearly a week ago has turned into one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history, befuddling industry experts and government officials. Authorities still don’t know where the plane is or what caused it to vanish.

“I, like most of the world, really have never seen anything like this,” Marks said of the scale of the search, which involves dozens of ships and planes from more than a dozen countries. “It’s pretty incredible.”

On the seventh day of efforts to locate the missing Boeing 777-200, here are the latest main developments:

– Was it hijacked?: The plane may have been taken over or hijacked by someone with knowledge of flying planes and was being taken toward the Andaman Islands, according to a report by Reuters. The news agency bases its information on military radar data — but the article doesn’t address key facts such as which nation’s military radar information they are basing their deductions on. Also, the story is based on unidentified sources.

The Malaysian government said Friday it can’t confirm the report. The possibility that one of the plane’s pilots was involved in the disappearance is one of the many possibilities investigators are considering, Hishammuddin said.

Another lead: Chinese researchers say they recorded a “seafloor event” in waters around Malaysia and Vietnam about an hour and a half after the missing plane’s last known contact. The event was recorded in a non-seismic region situated 116 kilometers (72 miles) northeast of the plane’s last confirmed location, the University of Science and Technology of China said.

“Judging from the time and location of the two events, the seafloor event may have been caused by MH370 crashing into the sea,” said a statement posted on the university’s website.

Tracking the pings: Malaysian authorities believe they have several “pings” from the airliner’s service data system, known as ACARS, transmitted to satellites in the four to five hours after the last transponder signal, suggesting the plane flew to the Indian Ocean, a senior U.S. official told CNN.

That information combined with known radar data and knowledge of fuel range leads officials to believe the plane may have made as far as the Indian ocean, which is in the opposite direction of the plane’s original route, from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Why Indian Ocean?: Analysts from U.S. intelligence, the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have been scouring satellite feeds and, after ascertaining no other flights’ transponder data corresponded to the pings, came to the conclusion that they were likely to have come from the missing Malaysian plane, the senior U.S. official said.

“There is probably a significant likelihood” that the aircraft is now on the bottom of the Indian Ocean, the official said, citing information Malaysia has shared with the United States.

Indian search teams are combing large areas of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a remote archipelago in the northeast Indian Ocean. Two aircraft are searching land and coastal areas of the island chain from north to south, an Indian military spokesman said Friday, and two coastguard ships have been diverted to search along the islands east coast.

Malaysian response: In a statement Friday, Malaysia’s Ministry of Transport neither confirmed nor denied the latest reports on the plane’s possible path, saying that “the investigation team will not publicly release information until it has been properly verified and corroborated.” The ministry said it was continuing to “work closely with the U.S. team, whose officials have been on the ground in Kuala Lumpur to help with the investigation since Sunday.

U.S. experts are using satellite systems to try to determine the possible location of the plane, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation, said at a news conference Friday.

On Thursday, Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said that Rolls-Royce, the maker of the plane’s engines, and Boeing had reported that they hadn’t received any data transmissions from the plane after 1:07 a.m. Saturday, 14 minutes before the transponder stopped sending information. He was responding to a Wall Street Journal report suggesting the missing plane’s engines continued to send data to the ground for hours after contact with the transponder was lost.

The Wall Street Journal subsequently changed its reporting to say that signals from the plane — giving its location, speed and altitude — were picked up by communications satellites for at least five hours after it disappeared. The last “ping” came from over water, the newspaper reported, citing unidentified people briefed on the investigation.

CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet, Mike M. Ahlers, Pamela Brown, Aaron Cooper, Elizabeth Joseph, Brian Walker, Harmeet Shah Singh and Karen Chiu contributed to this report.

TM & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 453 other followers