Kuala Lumpur: Authorities in Kuala Lumpur admit they are not pursuing any leads in the mystery disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 despite a massive search involving ships and planes from 12 countries.
Malaysia’s defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein admits that seven days after the plane “vanished” authorities have made no progress in finding out what happened to it.
“Until we find the debris or some sign of the plane I will never feel we have made progress,” he told reporters on Thursday night.
Mr Hishammuddin defended Malaysia’s handling of what he called a “crisis situation”, saying some information such as details of military radar blips could not be released earlier because it required analysis and confirmation by other agencies.
He also denied accusations that Malaysia slowed down the search of the South China Sea by extending it to the Straits of Malacca on the basis of several blips from an unidentified aircraft hundreds of kilometres in the opposite direction.
“That is not true. In fact we have intensified the search,” he said.
“Let me be clear. There is no precedent for a situation like this. The plane vanished. We extended the search area because it is our duty to follow every lead.”
The main focus of the search by 43 ships and 40 aircraft is in the South China Sea where the plane carrying 239 passengers disappeared last Saturday morning 120 nautical miles off Malaysia’s coast heading towards Vietnam.
Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yaha said there has been no communication from any of the plane’s systems since 1.07am that morning.
“That was the last signal. There was nothing beyond that,” he said.
Incorrect information continues to swirl around the search and investigation into one of the world’s worst aviation disasters.
The hopes of relatives were cruelly raised on Thursday following a report in the Wall Street Journal suggesting that the Boeing 777 kept flying for four hours after it vanished from radar and US authorities were concerned it could have been hijacked.
The unverified article said while the plane’s transponders were inactive once it disappeared, data sent automatically from the plane’s Rolls Royce engines to a facility on the ground indicated it may have continued for four hours.
This would have taken it up to 4000 kilometres past its last known location.
The Wall Street Journal report said US counterterrorism officials were pursuing the possibility that a pilot or someone else on board the plane may have diverted the aircraft after intentionally turning off the jetliner's transponders to avoid radar detection.
"The disappearance is officially now an accident and all information about this is strictly handled by investigators,” a Rolls-Royce executive is reported to have said.
Mr Ahmad, from Malaysia Airlines, said in Kuala Lumpur that both Boeing and Rolls Royce both denied they received any signal from the plane after it disappeared from radar.
If it was heading west, it could have reached the border of Pakistan.
The background of the pilots, crew and passengers are being scoured by investigators for any links to extremist groups.
Malaysian officials denied media reports the family of one of the pilots was visited by police.
If the plane did continue for four hours after disappearing, another possible explanation is that a rupture in the aircraft led to the decompression of the cabin, depriving pilots of oxygen and leaving them disorientated, unconscious and then dead. In this scenario, the plane would have continued on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed.
A US Federal Aviation Administration warning last year said Boeing 777 planes such as MH370 should be checked for cracking near its satellite antenna.
But the Malaysian Ministry of Transport said on Thursday all airworthiness checks had been done on MH370 prior to its flight. Boeing insists that MH370 did not have the antenna in question.
If true, the Wall Street Journal report raises questions about why this information wasn’t shared earlier with Malaysian authorities, given it suggests the massive search effort was undertaken in the wrong locations.
The standard ACARS messaging system on planes did not work after MH370 disappeared. But the engine monitoring system, known as ‘‘Airplane Health Management’’ is a separate system.
However, Reuters reported on Monday that MH370 did not have this system installed.
Meanwhile,authorities in Kuala Lumpur discounted that grainy satellite images provided by China of debris in the South China Sea are remnants of the aircraft.
Malaysia's civil aviation chief, Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said surveillance aircraft examined the area identified by the satellite images on Thursday.
"There is nothing. We went there, there is nothing," he told the Associated Press.
The grainy Chinese images, which were taken on Sunday but only released on Wednesday, identified the debris in an area roughly in the same location where an oil rig worker claimed he saw a flaming jet in the sky.