The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 moved into the northern and southern hemispheres as Day 10 of rescue efforts still found no clue as to the whereabouts of the vanished jet. Here’s nine things to know about the international effort to locate the plane.
Malaysian authorities have been criticized for giving contradictory accounts over aspects of the investigation into the disappearance of Flight MH370. Authorities have now added to the confusion surrounding a key communications system. On Sunday, Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the aircraft’s communications addressing and reporting system (ACARS) had been “disabled” at 1:07 a.m. on March 8. This was before co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid gave the last verbal message from the plane — “All right, good night” — to ground controllers and would have been the clearest indication yet of something amiss in the cockpit before it went off course.
But Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, chief executive of Malaysia Airlines, clarified at a news conference Monday the communications system had worked normally at 1:07 a.m., then failed to send its next regularly scheduled update at 1:37 a.m. “We don’t know when the ACARS system was switched off,” he said. In response, Hishammuddin waved off numerous questions about why he had said a day earlier CARS had been disabled at 1:07 a.m. “What I said yesterday was based on fact, corroborated and verified,” he said.
The new description of what happened to the ACARS system appeared to reopen the possibility the aircraft was operating normally until a transponder ceased sending signals two minutes after its last radio message at 1:19 a.m. The new uncertainty could raise additional questions about whether the plane was deliberately diverted or suffered mechanical or electrical difficulties that crippled its communications and resulted in it flying an aberrant course that involved turning around, heading back over peninsular Malaysia, while rising and falling rapidly, and finally flying out over the Strait of Malacca to an unknown location.
Hishammuddin said finding the plane was still the main focus and he did not rule out finding it intact. “The fact that there was no distress signal, no ransom notes, no parties claiming responsibility, there is always hope,” he said. Investigators have not ruled out hijacking, sabotage, pilot suicide or mass murder. They are checking the backgrounds of all 227 passengers and 12 crew, as well as the ground crew, to see if links to terrorists, personal problems or psychological issues could be factors.
Malaysia’s government sent out diplomatic cables to all countries in the search area, seeking more planes and ships for the search, as well as to ask for any radar data that might help narrow the task. About 26 countries are involved in the search, which initially focused on seas on either side of peninsular Malaysia, in the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca. China, where most of the passengers were from, is providing several planes and 21 satellites.
French investigators have arrived in Kuala Lumpur to lend expertise garnered in the two-year search for an Air France jet that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. In that case, they were able to rely on distress signals. But that vital tool is missing in the Malaysia Airlines mystery because Flight 370’s communications were deliberately severed before its disappearance, investigators say. “It’s very different from the Air France case. The Malaysian situation is much more difficult,” said Jean Paul Troadec, a special advisor to France’s aviation accident investigation bureau.
Malaysian police confiscated a flight simulator from the pilot’s home Saturday and also searched the home of the co-pilot in what Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar initially said was the first police visits to those homes. But the government issued a statement Monday contradicting that account by saying police first visited the pilots’ homes as early as March 9, the day after the flight.
The search area for Flight MH370 is now up to about 80 million square kilometres, according to several estimates. The leader of one of the Malaysia search missions, Captain Fareq Hassan, said: “This is not just a needle in a haystack, it’s a haystack that gets bigger and shifts under us, due to the [ocean’s] drift.”
Malaysia’s [ital]New Straits Times[endital] reported investigators were considering the possibility the Boeing 777 dropped to 1,500 metres or possibly even lower to avoid detection by radar. It said the plane “had flown low and used ‘terrain masking’ during most of the eight hours it was missing from the radar coverage of possibly at least three countries.” One official told the paper, “It’s possible that the aircraft had hugged the terrain in some areas, that are mountainous to avoid radar detection.” There was no official comment on the report.
Passengers on MH370 probably didn’t have any service on their phones to call or text, say experts. Ted Lennox, president of LPS Avia Consulting, an Ottawa company that does aviation and airport planning, suggested the plane could have been out of reach of cellphone towers. The unavailability of a co-operating carrier could also have played a role in why passengers didn’t send texts or calls. Their cellphones, which were likely on a Malaysian carrier, might not have been able to connect to carriers in countries the plane passed over.