U.S. officials, frustratingly unnamed in the media, are now saying that a pair of communications systems on board Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 were shut off 14 minutes apart. The inference to be taken from that is that it did not go down suddenly or catastrophically.
The data reporting system was shut down at 1.07 am and the transponder was turned off at 1.21 am just after the the pilot signed off to Malaysian air traffic controllers with ‘All right, good night,’ and before the Boeing 777 apparently changed course and turned west.
According to investigators this indicated that the switch-off could have been a deliberate act and officials told ABC News that the two communications devices were ‘systematically shut down’.
That has led the US investigating team to become ‘convinced there was manual intervention’ which in turn means it was not an accident or massive malfunction that caused the plane to cease to be airborne.
Despite these two crucial tracking devices being inoperative, the plane still sent signals to a satellite after the aircraft went missing in the form of ‘pings’ – rather like a cellphone does, even if it is not switched on.
Reports suggest that the plane continued to fly for four to five hours after it disappeared.
Flight 370 is a Boeing 777. A 777’s maximum range is 9,395 miles when fully fueled. So fully fueled, it can fly from Singapore to New York. Or from Malaysia to Moscow.
That becomes relevant if, as some now fear, the plane did not crash but was instead deliberately stolen and disappeared. It’s possible that it could have been landed in some remote abandoned airfield, of which there are thousands all over the world. Or it could have been taken to some newly constructed, but concealed, airstrip anywhere within a very wide territory near the point at which it disappeared.
Obviously, a plane the size of a 777 can carry more than just human cargo.
Gen. Tom McInerney casually wondered this morning on Fox News whether maybe jihadis targeted the plane because they need a delivery mechanism for, er, a nuclear weapon.
The search area is vast. It reaches from northwest Australia up into Pakistan.
Much more on the next page.
When MH370 disappeared and turned sharp left, it continued to fly between navigational waypoints according to the satellite pings, indicating that it was still being actively piloted — after the communications systems had been shut off and the crew had gone silent.
The U.S. is moving surveillance aircraft to the search area, and India is expanding to search a chain of largely uninhabited Andaman Islands off its coast.