US investigators suspect MH370 flew on for four extra hours after falling off radar

Vietnam's Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff Senior Colonel Do Duc Minh points to the map of a search area to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, during a news briefing at a military airport in Ho Chi Minh city March 13, 2014. — Reuters pic
Vietnam's Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff Senior Colonel Do Duc Minh points to the map of a search area to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, during a news briefing at a military airport in Ho Chi Minh city March 13, 2014. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, March 13 — Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 remained airborne for four hours after it reportedly vanished without a trace from off Malaysia’s east coast, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported today.

Citing unnamed US aviation investigators and security officials, the US daily reported that the Beijing-bound jumbo jet carrying 239 passengers had continued flying for a total of five hours based on data obtained from the 777-200 plane’s maker, Boeing Co.

WSJ reported that the data was automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the plane’s engines as part of a routine maintenance and monitoring programme.

It also reported US counter-terrorism officials now pursuing the idea that flight MH370 may hijacked after someone on the plane deliberately switched off the onboard transponders to escape radar detection.

Malaysia’s military radars were previously reported to have picked up a signal that may have been of MH370 on a westward flight, which broadened the search scope to cover the Malacca Strait and the Andaman Sea.

According to the WSJ, a total flight time of five hours after departing Kuala Lumpur means the Boeing 777-200 jet could have covered some 2,200 nautical miles, reaching as far west as the Indian Ocean, the border of Pakistan or even the Arabian Sea.

The plane, which departed from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing shortly after midnight on March 8, was last detected making the transition from Malaysian airspace to Vietnamese airspace.

It disappeared without sending any distress signal and it remains unclear if the plane reached an alternate destination or if it has crashed, possibly hundreds of kilometres from the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea where a massive international hunt is ongoing.

The last location known was 120 nautical miles off Kota Baru, in the South China Sea.

Malaysia’s civil aviation chief had earlier today confirmed that no aircraft debris was found in the waters some 225km away from MH370’s last recorded spot, after China released satellite images showing three large objects that couo have come from the jet.

Malaysian police and Interpol are combing through the personal backgrounds of passengers and crew of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, and have confirmed they are taking a close look at a 35-year-old passenger of Uighur descent.

Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Department director Datuk Hadi Ho Abdullah confirmed this in a report in the Malay language daily Harian Metro today.

“We will conduct further investigations into this matter,” he said, without divulging further details.

It is understood that the police have also searched the family homes of crew members including the pilot and co-pilot of the flight, as terrorism and sabotage has not been ruled out as a reason behind the disappearance of the airliner.

An unnamed source had told the daily that Malaysian police and Interpol are focusing their attention on this man because of the skills he possessed.

“We are not saying that he is involved in terrorism, suspected of sabotaging or hijacking the plane, it’s just that more attention is on him because of his background and we feel that there are important elements that have to be looked at,” the source was quoted as saying.

The Uighurs are a Turkic ethnic group primarily living in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in China.

It was reported that the group that killed at least 29 people and wounding 143 with long knives and daggers, in the Kunming railway station on March 1, were allegedly Muslim separatist militants from the western region of Xinjiang, suspected to be of Uighur descent.

According to the man’s curriculum vitae found online, he is a PhD holder and is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, at a Turkish university.

He was among 153 Chinese nationals on board MH370.

The Malay Mail Online is waiting for confirmation from the university to verify that that was his last position, prior to boarding the plane.

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