Malaysia on Thursday denied a media report that its missing airliner flew on for hours after last making contact, and said Chinese photos that raised hopes of a search breakthrough actually showed no wreckage.
“Those reports are inaccurate,” Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said of a Wall Street Journal report that said US investigators suspected the plane had flown for a total of five hours.
The report said data automatically sent to the ground from the aircraft’s Rolls-Royce engines suggested the Boeing 777 was in the air for four hours after its last contact with air traffic control at 1.30am Malaysian time.
Stressing that Malaysia had nothing to hide, Hishammuddin revealed that the last transmission from the aircraft was at 0107 hours on Saturday which indicated that everything was normal.
He denied that the missing plane sent data after the last contact.
The minister added that the plane had undergone service checks on February 23 and that teams from Boeing and Rolls Royce were in Malaysia helping with the investigations.
He also said the plane did not fly over Malaysia a second time.
The Malaysia Airlines (MAS) jet was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on an overnight flight when it disappeared.
“Rolls-Royce and Boeing teams are here in Kuala Lumpur and have worked with MAS and investigation teams since Sunday. These issues have never been raised.”
He also said China had told Malaysia that satellite photos released on the website of a Chinese state oceanic agency, apparently showing three large objects in a suspected crash site, were released “by mistake and did not show any debris”.
A huge search effort has failed to find any evidence of the plane’s fate despite scouring land and sea for six days.
It has been repeatedly dogged by false leads and conflicting information, drawing mounting accusations that Malaysia is bungling the response.
The effort involves dozens of vessels and aircraft from countries around Asia, plus the United States.
Hishammuddin said there are now 43 ships and 40 aircraft searching for the plane — 26 ships and 25 aircraft are searching in the South China Sea, while 17 ships and 15 aircraft are on the Strait of Malacca.
The Chinese agency’s images had prompted Malaysia and Vietnam to dispatch planes to the area in question in the South China Sea to hunt for the suspect objects.
“The publication of the images on the website is an accident,” Hishammuddin said, relating a statement he said he had received from China’s ambassador to Malaysia.
He said the Chinese government did not endorse the action and was investigating.
The minister also gave a grim, firm “No” when asked to confirm reports that the missing plane had been found near Penang.
(Hattip to Channel News Asia, CNA/AFP/al)