In yet another twist Malaysia’s air force chief is denying earlier reports that military last tracked the missing Malaysia Airlines jet over the Strait of Malacca, far from where it last made contact with civilian air traffic control in the early hours of Saturday March 8th.
Reports stated the Malaysian military had tracked the Boeing 777 with primary radar instead of the secondary radar that commercial Air Traffic Control (ATC) uses which requires the planes transponder signal for tracking. Using this primary radar it was alleged that flight MH370 changed course and continued to fly westwards for at least one hour after contact was lost with commercial air traffic control. This information explained why the search area was expanded to include the Straits of Malacca and the west coast of Malaysia. However in breaking news these reports have been denied by Malaysia’s air force chief Rodzali Daud. The air force chief says he did not make “any such statements” and said the newspaper’s report was “inaccurate and incorrect.”
Despite this denial, the search area and efforts continue to expand in the west and northwest towards the Andaman Sea whilst in the waters near Vietnam where the flight last had radar contact with ATC efforts are being scaled back. Deputy Transport Minister Pham Quy Tieu states “We still have plans to search with a few flights today, while other activities are suspended”.
In other breaking news, the lives of the two pilots, Captain Ahmad Shah (53) and and First Officer, Fariq Ab.Hamid (27) are now being investigated with reports of their homes being searched this morning. It was revealed last night on A Current Affair that pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid and his colleague broke Malaysia Airline rules in 2011 when they invited two passengers to join them in the cockpit for a one hour flight between Phuket and Kuala Lumpur. Photographs show the pilots smoking and taking pictures with the girls.
It has now been four days since the plane disappeared and whilst some 25 aircraft and 45 ships are scouring the ocean for signs of wreckage still nothing has been found and questions remain unanswered. Experts say that given the absence of any wreckage in the vicinity of the last point of contact with ATC that the aircraft’s transponder either failed or was turned off at that point and the plane has continued to fly for some time off course, where and why is yet to be answered.
The Story So Far
Flight 370 was operating from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and was about 40 minutes into the flight and 144km northeast of Kota Bharu in Malaysia and under the control of Malaysia’s air traffic control at Subang Center when it disappeared off their radar screens at 1.20am local time.
Earlier investigators were saying that the plane had suffered a catastrophic explosion.
Investigators said that there are only a handful of scenarios that could cause such a catastrophic failure – the loss of a cargo door, a bomb, failure of the 777’s rear pressure bulkhead where the rear galleys are located or loss of a wing or tail.
The 777 that disappeared on Saturday was involved in a serious accident at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport in August 2012.
In that incident the 777’s wing struck the tail of a China Eastern A340 with such force that it sheared off the wing tip and it was left embedded in the A340’s tail.
While a new wingtip was installed investigators are looking at the damage reports to see what other damage occurred.
It is also possibly they say that some more serious damage went undetected.
The worst single aircraft crash was the result of a faulty repair down to the rear pressure bulkhead of a Japan Airlines 747 in 1978.
The 747 was involved in a landing accident and sustained substantial damage to the rear underside of the fuselage and the rear pressure bulkhead.
The repair performed by Boeing was not completed correctly and eventually failed on August 12, 1985 ripping away the 747’s tail.
The loss of the tail and hydraulic lines left the crew helpless and the 747 crashed killing 520 of the 524 aboard.
Investigators will also be reviewing software upgrades to the 777. In August 2005 the airline had a serious upset with a 777 flying from Perth to Kuala Lumpur.
Flying at 11,500m about 30 minutes after take-off the 777’s software incorrectly measured speed and acceleration, causing it to suddenly shoot up 1000m. The pilot disengaged the autopilot and descended and landed safely back in Perth. The software was changed and upgraded on all 777s.
Lack of any sign of the 777 suggests that the search to locate the jet may many more days. The oil slick that was discovered along with some debri is apparently not related to the missing 777.
Flight MH370 departed Kuala Lumpur at 12.41 am for Beijing. The aircraft was scheduled to land at Beijing International Airport at 6.30am local Beijing time Saturday morning.
According to The Aviation Herald’s radar data the aircraft was last regularly seen at 1.22am about half way between Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) at FL350 (35,000ft) over the Gulf of Thailand about 260nm north-northeast of Kuala Lumpur and 160nm northeast of Kota Bharu 40 minutes into the flight, followed by anomalies in the radar data of the aircraft over the next minute.
Aviation Herald states that “Aviation sources in China report that radar data suggest a steep and sudden descent of the aircraft, during which the track of the aircraft changed from 024 degrees to 333 degrees.”
The flight was carrying a total number of 239 passengers and crew – comprising 227 passengers (including 2 infants), 12 crew members. The passengers were of 14 different nationalities:-China, 152 plus 1 infant; Malaysia, 38; Indonesia 12; Australia 6; France 3; US 3 plus 1 infant; New Zealand, 2; Ukraine and Canada 2 and Russia, Italy, Taiwan, Netherlands, Austria 1 each.
However it has now been confirmed that the Italian and Austrian were not on board but their passports were stolen some years ago
This flight was a code share with China Southern Airlines.
The flight was piloted by Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a Malaysian aged 53. He has a total flying hours of 18,365hours. He joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981. First officer, Fariq Ab.Hamid, a Malaysian, is aged 27. He has a total flying hours of 2,763 hours. He joined Malaysia Airlines in 2007.
The 777 carries the registration 9M-MRO and was delivered in 2002 with 18,893 flying hours and 2,973 flight cycles.
See Geoffrey Thomas on the ABC 7.30 report
See Geoffrey Thomas on Channel 7 Sunrise