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    Mar 14, 2014

    A plane story that flew and then crashed


    FOR several hours yesterday, everyone following the fate of the missing Flight MH370 was offered hope.

    The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) claimed that the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane was in the air for four hours after its last confirmed contact.

    Bloomberg added that the plane appeared to have changed course deliberately after its transponders went dead, and that this could have been done by hijackers or the pilots.

    Both reports suggested that the plane could have been diverted to an unknown location, possibly thousands of miles from current search operations.

    But, as has become the norm in this saga, hope was eventually deflated. "Those reports are inaccurate," said Malaysia Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.

    The WSJ report claimed that data, which is automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the Boeing 777's Rolls-Royce engines, suggested that the plane flew for a total of five hours.

    "United States counter-terrorism officials are pursuing the possibility that a pilot or someone else on board the plane may have diverted it towards an undisclosed location after intentionally turning off the jetliner's transponders to avoid radar detection," WSJ reported.

    But the Malaysian denial was emphatic. "Rolls-Royce and Boeing teams are here in Kuala Lumpur and have worked with MAS and investigation teams since Sunday," said Mr Hishammuddin.

    "After today's media reports, MAS has asked Rolls-Royce and Boeing specifically about the data. As far as Rolls-Royce and Boeing are concerned, those reports are inaccurate."

    The two outfits were far more ambiguous in their response to WSJ, with a Rolls-Royce representative saying: "We continue to monitor the situation and to offer MAS our support."

    WSJ attributed the information to two unidentified sources "familiar with the details".

    If true, the reports would have major implications.

    For one thing, the plane could have flown an additional 2,200 nautical miles, potentially reaching India or Australia.

    This would have rendered the current search operation all but meaningless. It also revived the faint possibility of survival.

    What's more, analysts that MyPaper spoke to agreed that it was possible for the plane to transmit such data.

    "Theoretically, it's possible that the aircraft could be transmitting data over the extra four hours, but the source is not verified," said Mr Greg Waldron, Flightglobal's Asia managing director.

    But Mr Ravi Madavaram, a Frost & Sullivan aviation analyst, said: "This data is among the first that investigators will look at, so it should have come out much earlier."