Malaysia Airlines aircraft changed course before going missing

Conflicting accounts emerge of aircraft’s direction change and subsequent events

A member of the military personnel looks out of a Republic of Singapore Air Force C130 transport plane during a search for the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 aircraft over the South China Sea yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Thong Kah Hoong Dennis/Lianhe Zaobao/Singapore Press Holdings Ltd

A member of the military personnel looks out of a Republic of Singapore Air Force C130 transport plane during a search for the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 aircraft over the South China Sea yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Thong Kah Hoong Dennis/Lianhe Zaobao/Singapore Press Holdings Ltd

Wed, Mar 12, 2014, 01:00


Malaysian authorities now believe that a jet missing since Saturday radically changed course around the time that it stopped communicating with ground controllers.

But there were conflicting accounts of the course change or what may have happened afterward, adding to the air of confusion and disarray surrounding the investigation and search operation.

The Malaysian authorities have repeatedly insisted they were doing their best to solve the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. But the government and the airline have also offered imprecise, incomplete and sometimes inaccurate information, with civilian officials contradicting military leaders.

Yesterday the head of Malaysia’s airforce, Gen Rodzali Daud, was quoted in a Malaysian newspaper saying the military had received “signals” on Saturday that after the aircraft stopped communicating with ground controllers, it changed course sharply, from heading northeast to heading west. It then supposedly flew hundreds of miles across the Malaysian Peninsula and out over the Strait of Malacca, before the tracking went blank.


Stunned aviation experts
According to this new account, the last sign of the plane was recorded at 2

.40am on Saturday, and the aircraft was then near Pulau Perak, an island more than 100 miles off the western shore of the Malaysian Peninsula.

That assertion stunned aviation experts as well as officials in China, who had been told that the authorities lost contact with the plane more than an hour earlier, when it was on course over the Gulf of Thailand, east of the peninsula. But the new account seemed to fit with the decision on Monday, previously unexplained, to expand the search area to include west of the peninsula.

Adding to the confusion, Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad, spokesman for the prime minister’s office, said he had checked with senior military officials, who told him there was no evidence that the plane had recrossed the peninsula, only that it may have attempted to turn back.

Malaysia Airlines, meanwhile, offered a third, conflicting account. The airline said authorities were “looking at a possibility” that the plane was headed to Subang, an airport outside the capital, Kuala Lumpur, that handles mainly domestic flights.

But if the flight travelled west over Malaysia, as the airforce chief was quoted saying, it would have flown very close to a beacon in the city of Kota Bharu operated by Flightradar24, a global tracking system for commercial aircraft.

Mikael Robertsson, the co-founder of Flightradar24, said the transponder on the jet never sent a signal to that receiver, which means that if the plane did fly that way, its transponder had been knocked out of service by damage or had been deliberately shut off.

A pilot can turn off the transponder, said Mr Robertsson, and the fact that the last contact from the Malaysia Airlines flight’s transponder came at roughly the same time that the cockpit crew stopped communicating with ground controllers by radio suggests that is what happened, he said. “I guess to me it sounds like they were turned off deliberately.”

The aircraft disappeared from Flightradar24’s tracking system at 1.21am on Saturday while flying at 35,000ft over the Gulf of Thailand; Malaysia Airlines has said that the last radio communication with the pilots was at about 1.30am but has not given a precise time.
– (New York Times)