No wreckage has been found from Flight MH370, which vanished from
air traffic control screens off Malaysia's east coast at 1:21 a.m.
local time on March 8, less than an hour after taking off from Kuala
Lumpur bound for Beijing.
An unprecedented search for the Boeing 777-200ER is under way
involving 26 nations in two vast search "corridors": one arcing
north overland from Laos towards the Caspian Sea, the other curving
south across the Indian Ocean from west of Indonesia's Sumatra
island to west of Australia.
"The working assumption is that it went south, and furthermore that
it went to the southern end of that corridor," said the source, who
spoke on condition of anonymity.
The view is based on the lack of any evidence from countries along
the northern corridor that the plane entered their airspace, and the
failure to find any trace of wreckage in searches in the upper part
of the southern corridor.
Some sources involved in the investigation have voiced fears it
could be drifting towards deadlock due to the reluctance of
countries in the region to share militarily sensitive radar data or
allow full access to their territory.
"These are basically spy planes, that's what they were designed
for," said one source close to the investigation, explaining the
hesitance of some nations to allow maritime surveillance aircraft
into their waters.
Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who is in
charge of the operation, told a news conference that: "The search
for MH370 involves diplomatic, technical and logistical challenges."
China, which is leading the northern corridor search with
Kazakhstan, said it had not yet found any sign of the aircraft
crossing into its territory.
Malaysian and U.S. officials believe the aircraft was deliberately
diverted perhaps thousands of miles off course, but an exhaustive
background search of the passengers and crew aboard has not yielded
anything that might explain why.
Last week, a source familiar with official U.S. assessments said it
was thought most likely the plane flew south, where it presumably
would have run out of fuel and crashed into the sea.
If it did indeed end up in the southern Indian Ocean, one of the
remotest places on Earth and also one of the deepest seas, it
increases the chance it may never be found — and investigators may
never know for sure what happened on board.
Hishammuddin said the difficulty of searching such a huge expanse of
ocean made the operation in the southern corridor "much more
Officials believe that someone with detailed knowledge of both the
Boeing 777 and commercial aviation navigation switched off two vital
datalinks: the ACARS system, which relays maintenance data back to
the ground, and the transponder, which enables the plane to be seen
by civilian radar.
The source close to the investigation said that it was thought
"highly probable that ACARS was switched off prior to the final
verbal message" received for the cockpit.
That message, an informal "all right, good night" radioed to
Malaysian air traffic controllers to acknowledge their handover of
the plane to Vietnamese airspace, was believed to have been spoken
by the co-pilot, the airline said earlier this week.
Investigators piecing together patchy data from military radar and
satellites believe that minutes later the plane turned sharply west,
re-crossing the Malay Peninsula and following an established
commercial route towards India.
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After that, ephemeral pings picked up by one commercial satellite
suggest the aircraft flew on for at least six hours. The data from
the satellite placed the plane somewhere in one of the two corridors
when the final signal was sent at 8:11 a.m.
Hishammuddin said the latest in a series of reported possible
sightings of the plane, this time over the Maldives, had been
investigated by police in the Indian Ocean island chain and
determined to be untrue.
FLIGHT SIMULATOR DATA DELETED
The methodical shutdown of the communications systems, together with
the fact that the plane appeared to be following a planned course
after turning back, have been interpreted as suggesting strongly
that foul play, rather than some kind of technical failure, was
behind the disappearance.
Police have searched the homes of the 53-year-old pilot Zaharie
Ahmad Shah and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27. Among the items taken
were a flight simulator Zaharie had built in his home.
Malaysia's police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, said an examination of
the flight simulator showed its data log had been cleared on
February 3. "The experts are looking at what are the logs that have
been cleared," he told the news conference.
U.S. government sources said intelligence agencies had extensively
analyzed people on the flight but came up with no connections to
terrorism or possible criminal motives.
A senior U.S. official said he was "not aware of any stones left
unturned". China has said there is no evidence that Chinese
passengers, who made up over two-thirds of those on board, were
involved in a hijack or act of sabotage.
Australia is leading the search of the southern part of the southern
corridor, with assistance from the U.S. Navy.
It has shrunk its search field based on satellite tracking data and
analysis of weather and currents, but it still covers an area of
600,000 sq km (230,000 sq miles), roughly the size of Spain and
The U.S. Navy said it had switched mainly to using P-8A Poseidon and
P-3 Orion aircraft to search for the missing plane instead of ships
"The maritime patrol aircraft are much more suited for this type of
operation," said Navy Lieutenant David Levy, who is on board the USS
Blue Ridge. "...It's just a much more efficient way to search."
(Additional reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi, Siva Govindasamy,
Michael Martina and Niluksi Koswanage in Kuala Lumpur, Andrea
Shalal-Esa and Mark Hosenball in Washington, Jane Wardell in Sydney,
Peter Apps in London, Daniel Bosley in Male and Shihar Aneez in
Colombo; writing by Alex Richardson; editing by Nick Macfie)
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