Malaysia Denies Report That MH370 Flew for Hours After Disappearing

Yet again, confusion prevails over the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, with Malaysian authorities quickly denying a report by the Wall Street Journal that the missing plane flew on for four hours after losing contact with control towers. 

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Update, 6:21 p.m. The slow trickle of new information continues, as U.S. officials now tell ABC News that two communications devices on the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 were shut down at different times, about 15 minutes apart:

The data reporting system, they believe, was shut down 1:07 a.m. The transponder — which transmits location and altitude — shut down at 1:21 a.m.

This new information, if true, leads ABC's aviation consultant John Nance to believe the shut down was "deliberate." The mystery and complete lack of solid information or evidence of the plane's location has continued to baffle experts and amateurs alike. One expert speaking with the Washington Post shared one scary theory"the combination of transponder and communications failure, together with the lack of debris and the possibility the plane turned around, suggested some kind of hostile takeover by passengers or crew," according to Richard Aboulafia, a vice president of analysis at the Teal Group Corporation.

Update, 12:20 p.m. There is now more pushback against the Rolls Royce engine data theory. CNN reports a "senior aviation source," whatever that is, who has access to pertinent information says the engine data story is bunk:

Update, 11:51 a.m. The Pentagon seems to believe the engine data rather than Malaysian authorities. Calling the engine evidence an "indication" the plane crashed in the Indian ocean, a senior Pentagon official told ABC News' Martha Radditz that the USS Kidd was moving to the Indian Ocean to begin searching for plane wreckage. The USS Kidd, deployed to waters near Malaysia two days ago, will arrive within the next 24 hours.

Original: Yet again, confusion prevails over the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, as another apparent breakthrough in the case is met with denials and backtracking. On Thursday morning, Malaysian authorities quickly refuted a widely-spread report by the Wall Street Journal that the missing plane flew on for as much as four hours after losing contact with control towers. 

The Journal says that U.S. investigators had recovered data from the missing plane's Rolls Royce engine that showed it had stayed in the air for several hours after it was thought to have disappeared. Rolls Royce engines are equipped with an onboard monitoring system that automatically sends back information about engine health, operations and aircraft movements to those on the ground every thirty minutes. A Rolls Royce representative told theWSJ that "We continue to monitor the situation and to offer Malaysia Airlines our support," but did not offer further comment.

Crew members prepare for a search mission. REUTERS

Others, however, said that the data gathered suggest the plane flew for five hours altogether. This possibility is further complicating an already confusing case, and forcing investigators to consider more explanations for what might have happened, according to the WSJ:

U.S. counterterrorism officials are pursuing the possibility that a pilot or someone else on board the plane may have diverted it toward an undisclosed location after intentionally turning off the jetliner's transponders to avoid radar detection, according to one person tracking the probe. The investigation remains fluid, and it isn't clear whether investigators have evidence indicating possible terrorism or sabotage. So far, U.S. national security officials have said that nothing specifically points toward terrorism, though they haven't ruled it out.

Now, U.S. officials are considering the option that the plane was commandeered, possibly "with the intention of using it later for another purpose." If the plane did indeed fly for five hours altogether, it would basically rule out the possibility of pilot error or mechanical breakdown. It also means that the plane could have travelled 2,200 nautical miles in any direction, distorting the already-sketchy search parameters that were most recently expanded by reports that the plane headed back to Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia's acting Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said, however, that the Journal report was erroneous: "As far as both Rolls-Royce and [MH370 plane manufacturer] Boeing are concerned, those reports are inaccurate. The last (data) transmission from the aircraft was at 01:07 a.m.(local time) which indicated that everything was normal." And at least one aviation expert told CNN he doubted the plane could have flown for so many hours without being picked up by radar.

AP/Wong Maye-E

The denial means that, once again, the search team has very little to go on. Yesterday, China released satellite images that appeared to show some debris that could have come from the missing plane, but today Chinese authorities said those images were shown by mistake. Hussein said that the pictures "did not show any debris from MH370." The satellite images lent credence to a report by an oil rig worker who claims he saw the plane go down in flames around the same area as the one seen in the satellite images. Now that China has walked back the possible connection between the debris and MH370, however, his sighting seems increasingly unlikely. In all the back-and-forth, no one knows which sources are to be believed.

Those who have joined Malaysia in the search for the missing flight are growing frustrated by a lack of information. Chinese officials are growing especially impatient with Malaysia as the search drags on for a sixth day. The country's premier Li Keqiang said he expects a "smoother" flow of information from Malaysia, which has offered anything but. Around two-thirds of the 239 people aboard the missing flight are Chinese citizens.

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