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Malaysia Airlines MH370 Search Intensifies, As China Offers Satellites, More Questions Emerge

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Officials revealed a new timeline Monday suggesting the final voice transmission from the cockpit of the missing Malaysian plane may have occurred before any of its communications systems were disabled, adding more uncertainty about who aboard might have been to blame.

The search for Flight 370, which vanished early March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, has now been expanded deep into the northern and southern hemispheres. Australian vessels scoured the southern Indian Ocean and China offered 21 of its satellites to help Malaysia in the unprecedented hunt.

With no wreckage found in one of the most puzzling aviation mysteries of all time, relatives of those on the Boeing 777 have been left in an agonizing limbo.

Investigators say the plane was deliberately diverted during its overnight flight and flew off-course for hours. They haven't ruled out hijacking, sabotage, or pilot suicide, and they are checking the backgrounds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members, as well as the ground crew, to see if links to terrorists, personal problems or psychological issues could be factors.

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said finding the plane was still the main focus, and he did not rule out that it might be discovered intact.

"The fact that there was no distress signal, no ransom notes, no parties claiming responsibility, there is always hope," Hishammuddin said at a news conference.

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Malaysian Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said an initial investigation indicated that the last words heard from the plane by ground controllers — "All right, good night" — were spoken by the co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid. Had it been a voice other than that of Fariq or the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, it would have clearest indication yet of something amiss in the cockpit before the flight went off-course.

Malaysian officials said earlier that those words came after one of the jetliner's data communications systems — the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System — had been switched off, suggesting the voice from the cockpit may have been trying to deceive ground controllers.

However, Ahmad said that while the last data transmission from ACARS — which gives plane performance and maintenance information — came before that, it was still unclear at what point the system was switched off, making any implications of the timing murkier.

The new information opened the possibility that both ACARS and the plane's transponders, which make the plane visible to civilian air traffic controllers, were turned off at about the same time. It also suggests that the message delivered from the cockpit could have preceded any of the severed communications.

Airline pilots in the United States cautioned against reading too much into what little is known so far about the actions of the Malaysia Airlines crew.

"You can't take anything off the table until everything is on table, and we don't even have an aircraft," said Boeing 737 pilot Mike Karn, president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations.

Authorities have pointed to the shutdown of the transponders and the ACARS as evidence that someone with a detailed knowledge of the plane was involved. But Bob Coffman, an airline captain and former 777 pilot, said that kind of information is probably available on the Internet.

"We really don't know what happened in the airplane at this point," he said.

Authorities confiscated a flight simulator from the pilot's home Saturday and also visited the home of the co-pilot in what Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar initially said were the first police visits to those homes.

But the government, which has come under criticism abroad for missteps and foot-dragging in releasing information, issued a statement Monday contradicting that account, saying police first visited the pilots' homes as early as March 9, the day after the flight disappeared.

Coffman said the flight simulator could signify nothing more than the pilot's zeal for his job.

"There are people for whom flying is all consuming," he said, noting some pilots like to spend their off-duty hours on simulators at home, commenting on pilot blogs or playing fighter-pilot video games.

Although Malaysian authorities requested that all nations with citizens aboard the flight conduct background checks on them, it wasn't clear how thoroughly they were doing such checks at home. The father of a Malaysian aviation engineer aboard the plane said police had not approached anyone in the family about his 29-year-old son, Mohamad Khairul Amri Selamat, though he added that there was no reason to suspect him.

"It is impossible for him to be involved in something like this," said Selamat Omar, 60. "He is a good boy. ... We are keeping our hopes high. I am praying hard that the plane didn't crash and that he will be back soon."

French investigators arriving in Kuala Lumpur to lend expertise from the two-year search for an Air France jet that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 said they were able to rely on distress signals. But that vital tool is missing in the Malaysia Airlines mystery because the flight's communications were deliberately silenced ahead of its disappearance, investigators say.

"It's very different from the Air France case. The Malaysian situation is much more difficult," said Jean Paul Troadec, a special adviser to France's aviation accident investigation bureau.

Malaysia's government sent diplomatic cables to all countries in the search area, seeking more planes and ships for the search, as well as to ask for any radar data that might help.

The search involves 26 countries and initially focused on seas on either side of Peninsular Malaysia, in the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.

The vast scope of the search was underlined when a U.S. destroyer that already has helped cover 15,000 square miles (38,850 square kilometres) of water dropped out.

The Navy determined that long-range aircraft were more efficient in looking for the plane or its debris than the USS Kidd and its helicopters, so effective Tuesday the ship was leaving the Indian Ocean search area, said Navy Cmdr. William Marks, spokesman for the 7th Fleet. Navy P-3 and P-8 surveillance aircraft remain available, and can cover 15,000 square miles (38,850 square kilometres) in a nine-hour flight.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Najib Razak said investigators determined that a satellite picked up a faint signal from the aircraft about 7 1/2 hours after takeoff. The signal indicated the plane would have been somewhere on a vast arc stretching from Kazakhstan in Central Asia to the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.

Hishammuddin said Monday that searches in both the northern and southern stretches of the arc had begun, and that countries from Australia to China in the north and Kazakhstan in the west had joined the hunt.

Had the plane gone northwest to Central Asia, it would have crossed over countries with busy airspace, and some experts believe it more likely would have gone south, although Malaysian authorities are not ruling out the northern corridor and are eager for radar data that might confirm or rule out that route.

The northern corridor crosses through countries including China, India and Pakistan — all of which have said they have seen no sign of the plane. China, where two-thirds of the passengers were from, is providing several planes and 21 satellites for the search, Premier Li Keqiang said in a statement.

"Factors involved in the incident continue to multiply, the area of search-and-rescue continues to broaden, and the level of difficulty increases, but as long as there is one thread of hope, we will continue an all-out effort," Li said.

Indonesia focused on Indian Ocean waters west of Sumatra, air force spokesman Rear Marshall Hadi Tjahjanto said.

Australia agreed to Malaysia's request to take the lead in searching the southern Indian Ocean with four Orion maritime planes that also would be joined by New Zealand and U.S. aircraft, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

"Australia will do its duty in this matter," Abbott told Parliament. "We will do our duty to the families of the 239 people on that aircraft who are still absolutely devastated by their absence, and who are still profoundly, profoundly saddened by this as yet unfathomed mystery."

The southern Indian Ocean is the world's third-deepest and one of the most remote stretches of water, with little radar coverage.

___

Associated Press writers Joan Lowy and Robert Burns in Washington, Chris Brummitt, Jim Gomez and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Australia, Christopher Bodeen in Beijing and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

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The Wall Street Journal reports on a potential clue in the plane investigation:

A “partial ping” received eight minutes after a final complete transmission between Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and an orbiting satellite began on the missing jet, in the latest clue that could help investigators unravel what happened to the jet before it stopped flying.

The final partial transmission from the missing Boeing Co. 777-200ER, which disappeared from civilian radar on March 8, “originates with the aircraft for reasons not understood,” said Chris McLaughlin, senior vice president of Inmarsat PLC, which operates the satellite.

Read the full story here.

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Chicago-based law firm Ribbeck Law Chtd., representing the father of a passenger on MH370, filed a request in Illinois state court on Tuesday seeking Malaysia Airlines and Boeing's records on the missing plane, Bloomberg reports.

Januari Siregar, father of passenger Firman Chandra Siregar, has requested 26 types of data, including information about the maintenance of the jet, the crew's training, and any cargo on board, according to the report.

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Wired explains that U.S. Navy underwater microphones may be essential to the MH370 search now that authorities are looking in an area of the southern Indian Ocean in places as deep as 23,000 feet.

From Wired:

The 70-pound tow fish, which is formally known in true Pentagon style as Towed Pinger Locator 25, is a hydrodynamic microphone designed specifically to listen for the acoustic signal of the data and cockpit voice recorders carried aboard all commercial and military aircraft. It can track the devices to depths of 20,000 feet.

The U.S. has deployed a pair of tow fish to a Royal Australian Navy Rescue Ship, which will drag them through the search area looking for pings from the missing plane's flight data recorder, according to Wired.

Read the full report here.

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The Washington Post reports that Chinese officials are concerned that relatives grieving the disappearance of flight MH370 could redirect their anger from Malaysia onto China.

From The Washington Post:

At a meeting of provincial officials last week, according to people who were in the room, they discussed preventing a larger movement from forming out of the passengers’ families.

While the families' outrage and frustration is genuinely targeted at Malaysian authorities, China is taking care to make sure it stays that way, the Post notes.

At a rare-sanctioned protest at the Malaysian embassy in Beijing on Tuesday, plainclothes men who did not appear to be family members came to rally the protesters, according to the Post:

In the meantime, in one bus, a man with a loudspeaker prepared the relatives. “We don’t have any contradictions with the Chinese government, right?” he yelled into the loudspeaker, waiting for them to yell back “right!” “We don’t have any contradictions with the media, right?”

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Relatives of passengers on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 protest outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing on March 25, 2014. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

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From the Associated Press:

Malaysia Airlines says it is providing comprehensive support for the families of the 239 people aboard Flight 370.

FOOD AND LODGING: Hotel, transportation, meals and other expenses have been provided for up to five family members per passenger since the flight disappeared March 8, and the airline intends to continue the support as long as families require it.

FINANCIAL HELP: The airline provided US,000 per passenger to the next of kin initially and will offer more payments as the search for the jetliner continues.

ROUND-THE-CLOCK CARE: It has assigned more than 700 caregivers — including two per family — to offer support and counseling to families on a 24-hour basis.

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When Malaysia Airlines Flight #370 disappeared on March 8, it carried 227 passengers and 12 crew members. The youngest passenger was 2-year-old Yan Zhang, the oldest was 79-year-old Baotang Lou.

Click here to view the entire passenger/crew manifest.

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By: Tan Sri Md Nor Md Yusof, Chairman of Malaysia Airlines

As you will be aware, last night the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najjib Razak, announced new evidence regarding the disappearance of MH370 on 8th March.

Based on this evidence, the Prime Minister’s message was that we must accept the painful reality that the aircraft is now lost and that none of the passengers or crew on board survived.

This is a sad and tragic day for all of us at Malaysia Airlines. While not entirely unexpected after an intensive multi-national search across a 2.24 million square mile area, this news is clearly devastating for the families of those on board. They have waited for over two weeks for even the smallest hope of positive news about their loved ones.

This has been an unprecedented event requiring an unprecedented response. The investigation still underway may yet prove to be even longer and more complex than it has been since March 8th. But we will continue to support the families – as we have done throughout. And to support the authorities as the search for definitive answers continues. I will now ask our Group Chief Executive¸ Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, to provide you will with fuller details of our support for the families.

By: Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, Group Chief Executive Officer, Malaysia Airlines

I stand before you today not only as the Group Chief Executive Officer of Malaysia Airlines, but also as a parent, as a brother, as a son. My heart breaks to think of the unimaginable pain suffered by all the families. There are no words which can ease that pain. Everyone in the Malaysia Airlines family is praying for the 239 souls on MH370 and for their loved ones on this dark day. We extend our prayers and sincere condolences.

We all feel enormous sorrow and pain. Sorrow that all those who boarded Flight MH370 on Saturday 8th March, will not see their families again. And that those families will now have to live on without those they love. It must be remembered too that 13 of our own colleagues and fellow Malaysians were also on board.

And let me be very clear on the events of yesterday evening. Our sole and only motivation last night was to ensure that in the incredibly short amount of time available to us, the families heard the tragic news before the world did. Wherever humanly possible, we did so in person with the families or by telephone, using SMS only as an additional means of ensuring fully that the nearly 1,000 family members heard the news from us and not from the media.

Ever since the disappearance of Flight MH370 Malaysia Airlines’ focus has been to comfort and support the families of those involved and support the multi-national search effort. We will continue to do this, while we also continue to support the work of the investigating authorities in the Southern Indian Ocean.

Like everyone else, we are waiting for news from those authorities. We know that while there have been an increasing number of apparent leads, definitive identification of any piece of debris is still missing. It is impossible to predict how long this will take. But after 17 days, the announcement made last night and shared with the families is the reality which we must now accept. When Malaysia Airlines receives approval from the investigating authorities, arrangements will be made to bring the families to the recovery areas if they so wish. Until that time, we will continue to support the ongoing investigation. And may I express my thanks to the Government and all of those involved in this truly global search effort.

In the meantime, Malaysia Airlines’ overwhelming focus will be the same as it has been from the outset – to provide the families with a comprehensive support programme. Through a network of over 700 dedicated caregivers, the loved ones of those on board have been provided with two dedicated caregivers for each family, providing care, support and counsel. We are now supporting over 900 people under this programme and in the last 72 hours, we have trained an additional 40 caregivers to ensure the families have access to round-the-clock support.

In addition, hotel accommodation for up to five family members per passenger, transportation, meals and others expenses have been provided since 8th March and that will continue.

Malaysia Airlines has already provided initial financial assistance of USD 5,000 per passenger to the next of kin. We recognize that financial support is not the only consideration. But the prolonged search is naturally placing financial strain on the relatives. We are therefore preparing to offer additional payments as the search continues.

This unprecedented event in aviation history has made the past 18 days the greatest challenge to face our entire team at Malaysia Airlines. I have been humbled by the hard work, dedication, heartfelt messages of concern and offers of support from our remarkable team. We do not know why, and we do not know how this terrible tragedy happened. But as the Malaysia Airlines family, we are all praying for the passengers and crew of Flight MH370.

For past statements, click here.

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Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya was asked at a press conference whether he would resign following the disappearance of Flight #370. Yahya said it was a personal decision, and one he would make at a later date, Reuters reported.

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Malaysia Airlines CEO said Tuesday during a press conference, "We do not know why. We do not know how. We do not know why this terrible tragedy happened."

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An Australian official said Tuesday in a press conference: "We're not looking for a needle in a haystack, we're still trying to define where the haystack is."

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Australia's Defense Minister said Tuesday that at this point, no debris has been successfully identified or recovered.

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AFP reports that relatives of Chinese passengers are marching in protest to the Malaysian embassy in Beijing seeking information about the crash:

Around 200 family members, some in tears, linked arms and shouted slogans including "The Malaysian government are murderers" and "We want our relatives back".

The embassy is about four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the Lido Hotel, where meetings have been taking place throughout the drama.

Read more here.

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China wants to know how Malaysia drew the conclusion that the plane was lost with no survivors, AP reports:

China's official Xinhua News Agency on Tuesday quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng as telling the Malaysian ambassador to Beijing that China wanted to know the specific facts that led Malaysia to announce Monday night that the plane had been lost.

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From Reuters:

Britain's Inmarsat used a wave phenomenon discovered in the 19th century to analyze the seven pings its satellite picked up from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 to determine its final destination.

The new findings led Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to conclude on Monday that the Boeing 777, which disappeared more than two weeks ago, crashed thousands of miles away in the southern Indian Ocean, killing all 239 people on board.

The pings, automatically transmitted every hour from the aircraft after the rest of its communications systems had stopped, indicated it continued flying for hours after it disappeared from its flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

From the time the signals took to reach the satellite and the angle of elevation, Inmarsat was able to provide two arcs, one north and one south that the aircraft could have taken.

Inmarsat's scientists then interrogated the faint pings using a technique based on the Doppler effect, which describes how a wave changes frequency relative to the movement of an observer, in this case the satellite, a spokesman said.

The Doppler effect is why the sound of a police car siren changes as it approaches and then overtakes an observer.

Britain's Air Accidents Investigation Branch was also involved in the analysis.

"We then took the data we had from the aircraft and plotted it against the two tracks, and it came out as following the southern track," Jonathan Sinnatt, head of corporate communications at Inmarsat, said.

The company then compared its theoretical flight path with data received from Boeing 777s it knew had flown the same route, he said, and it matched exactly.

The findings were passed to another satellite company to check, he said, before being released to investigators on Monday.

The paucity of data - only faint pings received by a single satellite every hour or so - meant techniques like triangulation using a number of satellites or GPS (Global Positioning System) could not be used to determine the aircraft's flight path.

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Searchers are racing to find the plane's black boxes, AP reports:

By law, the boxes must be able to send those signals for at least 30 days following a crash. But experts say they can continue making noise for another 15 days or so beyond that, depending upon the strength of the black box battery at the time of the crash.

Without the black boxes — the common name for the voice and data recorders normally attached to a fuselage — it would be virtually impossible for investigators to definitively say what caused the crash.

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From HuffPost:

The text message immediately set off a firestorm, with many on the Internet quick to criticize the airliner for not reaching out to relatives by more appropriate means.

In reality, the decision to text the families may not be as egregious as it seems.

MH370 families have chided Malaysia Airlines, as well as Malaysian government authorities, in part because the news media has continuously received new information about the missing plane before the families over the past two weeks.

Read the rest here.

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From Reuters:

Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng told Malaysia's ambassador in Beijing on Monday that China was demanding Malaysia hand over all relevant satellite data analysis on the missing Malaysian airliner, the Foreign Ministry said.

Xie met the ambassador after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, citing new satellite data, said Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared over two weeks ago en route to Beijing, crashed thousands of miles away in the southern Indian Ocean.

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Boeing is saddened by today's announcement by the prime minister of Malaysia regarding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Our thoughts and deepest sympathies continue to be with the families and loved ones of those aboard. Boeing continues to serve as a technical advisor to the U.S. National Transportation Board.

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Inmarsat, the company whose analysis undergirds today's announcement on flight MH370, explained to SkyNews how it was able to locate the flightpath of the missing plane.

As the company had already announced earlier, its satellites kept receiving hourly signals from the plane despite the fact that the jet's communication systems were switched off. Inmarsat then analyzed data from flights that took a similar path to MH370.

Inmarsat's senior vice president Chris McLoughlin said:

"What we did two weeks ago was say it could be north or it could be south, and what we've done is refined that with the signals we got from other aircraft and that gives you a very good fit."

"Previous aircraft provided a pattern, and that pattern to the south is virtually what we got in our suggested estimate. The fit is very, very strong."

"We passed the information on after it had been peer reviewed by others in the UK air industry and after it had been compared with Boeing."

Head over to SkyNews for the full story.

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BBC Transport Correspondent Richard Westcott tweets from the offices of British satellite company Inmarsat, who provided data analysis to Malaysia on the location of missing flight MH370.

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