Officials deny report that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 kept flying for hours

CNN/ Newswire | 3/13/2014, 2:28 p.m.
Yet another conflicting storyline has emerged in the perplexing disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 nearly six days ago. After ...
A passenger flight carrying 239 people en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing is missing, Malaysia Airlines said Saturday, March 8, 2014.

By Jethro Mullen and Michael Pearson


Yet another conflicting storyline has emerged in the perplexing disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 nearly six days ago.

After search crews failed to find any trace of debris suggested by Chinese satellite photographs, Malaysian officials on Thursday said there was no evidence to back a newspaper report suggesting the plane may have kept flying for four hours after its last reported contact.

The report from The Wall Street Journal said U.S. aviation investigators and national security officials were basing their belief that the missing plane kept flying on data automatically transmitted to the ground from the passenger jet's engines.

The account has raised questions among some U.S. officials about whether the plane had been steered off course "with the intention of using it later for another purpose," the newspaper reported, citing a "person familiar with the matter."

The newspaper said it was unclear whether the aircraft had landed somewhere or had crashed.

Malaysia's acting Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein rejected the Wall Street Journal report at a news conference Thursday, reiterating that the plane sent its last transmissions at 1:07 a.m. Saturday.

A senior aviation source with detailed knowledge of the matter also told CNN's Richard Quest on Thursday that there was no technical data suggesting the airplane continued flying for four hours, and said specifically that the Wall Street Journal account was wrong.

The news came after Vietnamese and Chinese search crews found nothing where Chinese satellite photographs released Wednesday showed large floating objects in the South China Sea.

The spot is between Malaysia and Vietnam and not far from the plane's expected flight path.

China's State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense described the images as showing "a suspected crash site."

But Chinese authorities later said the release of the satellite images was a mistake and that they didn't show any debris relating to the plane, Hishammuddin said.

Now, a new search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday. Carney said many countries are partnering in the search and "following leads where we find them."

Carney didn't specify why the search area might shift, but he told reporters that "some new information that's not necessarily conclusive" could lead to "reallocating some assets" toward the Indian Ocean.

"We are looking at information, pursuing possible leads, working within the investigation being led by the Malaysian government, and it is my understanding that one possible piece of information or collection of pieces of information has led to the possibility that a new search area may be opened," Carney said.

Engine data controversy

The Malaysian rejection of the Wall Street Journal piece is the latest in a series of conflicting accounts involving crucial details such as the plane's route, when it vanished and other issues.

The Wall Street Journal report said the plane's engines have an on-board monitoring system supplied by their manufacturer, Rolls-Royce PLC. The system "periodically sends bursts of data about engine health, operations and aircraft movements to facilities on the ground," the newspaper said.