US convinced of ‘manual intervention’ in MH370 transponder, communications shutdown

A friend of a passenger onboard the missing flight MH370 cries as he waits for news from Malaysia Airlines at the lobby of a hotel in Beijing, March 14, 2014. — Reuters pic
A friend of a passenger onboard the missing flight MH370 cries as he waits for news from Malaysia Airlines at the lobby of a hotel in Beijing, March 14, 2014. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, March 14 — Seven days since flight MH370 fell off the radar, two senior US defence officials are now convinced there was “manual intervention” that led to the shutdown of two communication systems aboard the jumbo jet that happened separately.

US broadcasting network ABC News cited one of the military officials as saying the information indicates the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane did not fall out of the sky due to a catastrophic failure of its systems, a theory that had been previously floated after the Boeing 777-200 vanished without a trace.

The report also cited US investigators saying the two modes of communication were “systematically shut down”.

That means the US team “is convinced that there was manual intervention”, ABC News reported on its website this morning, citing anonymous sources—bolstering speculation of a hijack.

According to ABC News’ report of the two unnamed Pentagon officials, the data reporting system was shut down at 1.07am on March 8, and the transponder, which transmits location and altitude, was shut down shortly after at 1.21am.

This is despite acting Transport Minister and Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein saying in a news conference yesterday that the last transmission from the aircraft was at 1.07am on March 8, which indicated that everything was normal.

MAS chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, who was also at the same press conference, reiterated the minister’s statement, saying the last High-Speed transmission was at 1.07am and that “was the last transmission that we ever see from the aircraft, it did not run beyond that”.

Two days ago however, Department of Civil Aviation director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman had said the last posting was at 1.21am.

“In our secondary radar, we look at our radar and it was posting at about 1.21 in the morning, and the target disappeared at 1.30 in the morning,” he said.

Azharuddin was also present at the press conference yesterday, but did not mention the posting at 1.21am.

The inconsistent statements has added on to the many contradictory statements made by Malaysian officials since the investigation began.

New developments this morning has also pointed a second time to the possibility that missing plane had remained airborne for several hours after it disappeared from civilian radar at 1.30am on March 8.

According to a Reuters report, satellites had picked up faint electronic pulses from the MAS aircraft after its disappearance, which it said suggested that the plane’s maintenance troubleshooting system were “switched on and ready to communicate” with satellites at the time.

Citing sources, the report said the system “pings” about once every hour and in the case of MH370, around five or six such pulses were heard. This could mean that MH370, which was Beijing-bound and ferrying 239 people, had continued to fly on for a number of hours after it left the radar screens.

This latest data conflicts, however, with claims just yesterday evening from Malaysian authorities who had disputed reports in the Wall Street Journal that had pointed to the same possibility.

WSJ’s report had pointed to data allegedly transmitted from the Boeing 777’s Rolls Royce engines, which was described as “inaccurate” by Hishammuddin and confirmed by both the engine manufacturer Rolls Royce and Boeing Co.

The international business newspaper has since corrected its report, however, admitting it had wrongly cited US investigators as basing their suspicions on signals from the plane’s Rolls Royce engines.

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