Search for missing jet may be extended to Indian Ocean [Star, The (South Africa)]
(Star, The (South Africa) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Communications satellites picked up faint electronic pulses from Malaysia Airlines flight 370 after it went missing on Saturday, but the signals gave no information about where it was heading and little else about its fate, two sources close to the investigation said yesterday.
The "pings" indicated that the aircraft's maintenance trouble-shooting systems were switched on and ready to communicate with satellites as needed. But no data links were opened because the companies involved had not subscribed to that level of service from the satellite operator, the sources said.
The system transmits such pings about once an hour, they said, but it remains unclear how many signals the plane sent after air traffic control had lost track of it.
Boeing, which made the missing 777 airliner, and Rolls-Royce, which supplied its Trent engines, declined to comment.
Earlier, Malaysian officials denied reports that the aircraft had continued to send technical data and said there was no evidence that it flew for hours after losing contact with air traffic controllers early on Saturday after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.
The Wall Street Journal had reported that US aviation investigators and national security officials believed the Boeing 777 flew for five hours, based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from its engines as part of a standard monitoring programme.
Sources familiar with the investigation reiterated that neither Boeing nor Rolls-Royce had received any engine maintenance data from the jet after its pilots last made contact. Only one maintenance update was received during the normal phase of flight, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
That said, the latest evidence of an electronic whisper from the plane, extending an electronic handshake to satellites but containing no data, suggests the aircraft was at least capable of communicating.
There was still no evidence that demonstrated the plane's disappearance was related to foul play, US security sources stressed, though the officials said they still had not ruled out the possibility of terrorism.
Reuters reported on Monday that the aircraft had made no automatic contact with the ground after vanishing with 239 people on board.
Modern aircraft can communicate with airline operations bases and sometimes with the headquarters of their manufacturers automatically in order to send maintenance alerts known as Acars messages.
It was this system that sent out the regular ping, which may have lasted for several hours, the sources said. Airlines can also subscribe to an expanded service that collects more data about the performance of the aircraft and sends it back to maintenance control rooms at the airline and Boeing.
But Malaysia Airlines had not signed up for Boeing's Airplane Health Management system, people familiar with the matter said this week.
Meanwhile, a new search area might be opened in the Indian Ocean as authorities try to determine what happened to the plane, the White House said yesterday.
"It's my understanding that, based on some new information that's not necessarily conclusive, an additional search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "And we are consulting with international partners about the appropriate assets to deploy."
Carney did not specify the nature of the new information. He sidestepped a question as to whether the US had confidence in the investigation being conducted by the Malaysian government.
"I just don't have an evaluation to make," he said. "What I can tell you is that we're working with the Malaysian government to try to find the plane; find out what happened to it for the sake of the families and, obviously, for the sake of knowing what caused the plane to disappear."
The US has been helping in the search, including deploying US Navy vessels. It also has sent National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration officials to the region.
"There are a number of possible scenarios that are being investigated as to what happened to the flight. We are not in a position at this time to make conclusions about what happened, unfortunately. But we're actively participating in the search," Carney told a news briefing.
US defence officials said the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd was en route to the Strait of Malacca, west of the Malaysian peninsula, to continue the search, answering a request from the Malaysian government.
The officials said they were unaware of any new evidence indicating where the plane might have crashed.
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