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Pulse is same frequency as missing plane’s flight data, cockpit voice recorders
A Chinese patrol ship looking for signs of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean discovered Saturday a pulse signal with a frequency of 37.5 kHz, state news agency Xinhua reported.
“That is the standard beacon frequency” for both so-called black boxes — the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, said Anish Patel, president of pinger manufacturer Dukane Seacom.
But experts cautioned that no confirmation had been made that the signal was linked to the missing plane.
“We are unable to verify any such information at this point in time,” the media office of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre said in an e-mail.
“This could be a variety of things,” said oceanographer Simon Boxall, who said the frequency is used by a variety of instruments.
“We’ve had a lot of red herrings, hyperbole on this whole search,” the lecturer in ocean and earth science at the University of Southampton told CNN. “I’d really like to see this data confirmed.”
He added, “It could be a false signal.”
But, if this proves to be what investigators have been searching for, “then the possibility of recovering the plane — or at least the black boxes — goes from being one in a million to almost certain.”
Xinhua said the detector deployed by the Haixun 01 patrol ship picked up the signal at around 25 degrees south latitude and 101 degrees east longitude. “It is yet to be established whether it is related to the missing jet,” it said.
The announcement came nearly a month after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared, and on the same day that the nation’s acting transportation minister said three committees were being formed to tackle the disappearance of the flight.
One will tend to the families of passengers aboard the missing flight, the second will oversee the investigation team and a third committee will handle the deployment of assets, said Hishammuddin Hussein.
Malaysia will also appoint an independent investigator to lead an investigation team, the acting minister said.
The team will include an airworthiness group, looking at issues such as maintenance records, and an operations group to examine aspects such as flight recorders and operations. A medical and human factors team will investigate issues such as psychology, he said.
As well as Malaysia and Australia, the team will include representatives from China, the United States, the United Kingdom and France, he said.
Hishammuddin also addressed “unfounded allegations made against Malaysia,” which, he said, “include the extraordinary assertion that Malaysian authorities were somehow complicit in what happened to MH370.”
He added, “I should like to state, for the record, that these allegations are completely untrue.”
Hishammuddin pointed to a statement from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which says Malaysia has “done its level best” in its response to an operation “which is the biggest and most complex we have ever seen.”
The minister, who had earlier briefed ASEAN ministers and the United States on the search at a joint defense forum, thanked the United States for its “unwavering support” and said the ASEAN ministers had pledged their continued cooperation.
The hunt for physical evidence continues Saturday — both on the surface of the southern Indian Ocean and deep below it.
The British submarine HMS Tireless is now in the search area, Hishammuddin said.
Meanwhile, a parallel search for digital clues on the hard drives of a flight simulator in the home of one of the pilots turned up nothing conclusive.
There was no “we got it” information, a U.S. official with knowledge of the investigation told CNN late Friday.
There were some “curious” things, given the situation, the official said. The captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, had programmed several alternate routes into the simulator, but it appeared he had done so to come up with safe plans of action in case of emergencies aboard the plane, the official said.
The searches appear to be what an experienced and professional pilot would do, the official said.
Race against time to find pingers
In the choppy waters of the Indian Ocean, the hunt is not letting up.
The British Royal Navy survey ship HMS Echo and the Australian naval supply ship Ocean Shield began scouring for the plane’s pingers and possible wreckage about 6,500 feet to 13,000 feet deep on the ocean floor Friday.
The search was along a single 150-mile (240-kilometer) track, said retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the Australian agency coordinating the operation.
The race is on to find the missing Boeing 777’s locator pingers before their batteries expire.
The acoustic pinger batteries on Flight 370’s black boxes were due to be replaced in June, the Malaysia Airlines chief executive said Saturday.
“We can confirm there is a maintenance program. Batteries are replaced prior to expiration,” Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said.
The Ocean Shield has high-tech gear borrowed from the United States. That includes a Bluefin-21, which can scour the ocean floor for wreckage, and a Towed Pinger Locator 25, with its underwater microphone to detect pings from the jet’s voice and data recorders as deep as 20,000 feet (6,100 meters).
“It is a very slow proceeding,” U.S. Navy Capt. Mark M. Matthews said of the second tool, which is towed behind a vessel typically moving at 1 to 5 knots.
Bill Schofield, an Australian scientist who worked on developing flight data recorders, said: “If they do find it, I think it’ll be remarkable.”
Up to 10 military planes and three civilian aircraft — in addition to 11 ships — will be looking Saturday for any sign of Flight 370, according to the Australian government.
The search area will be just under 84,000 square miles (217,000 square kilometers), which is slightly less than the area searched Friday, and will focus some 1,050 miles northwest of Perth. This is about 50 miles further from the western Australian city than was the case a day earlier.
Is this the right spot? Will they find anything? So far, all efforts to locate signs of the airliner have proven unsuccessful. Still, those involved have vowed to keep trying.
“Really, the best we can do right now is put these assets in the best location — the best guess we have — and kind of let them go,” U.S. Navy Cmdr. William Marks told CNN. “Until we get conclusive evidence of debris, it is just a guess.”
‘Long way to go’
Officials have repeatedly warned that the massive international search to find signs of the Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing flight may not conclude any time soon.
In the case of Air France Flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, officials found debris on the surface after five days of searching. But it took them nearly two years to find the main pieces of wreckage, the flight recorders and many of the bodies of those on board.
With Flight 370, the search teams have even fewer clues.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott warned that “we cannot be certain of ultimate success in the search” for the Malaysian aircraft. He described it as the most difficult search “in human history.”
Authorities have yet to explain why the plane flew off course or where it ended up.
Investigations into the 227 passengers and 12 crew members have yielded no suggestion that any of them might have been behind the disappearance.
Aircraft went down over southern Indian Ocean, PM says
(CNN) — Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went down over the southern Indian Ocean, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Monday, citing a new analysis of satellite data by a British satellite company and accident investigators.
The announcement appeared to rule out the possibility that anyone could have survived whatever happened to the aircraft, which vanished more than two weeks ago with 239 people aboard.
As Razak spoke, airline representatives met with family members in Beijing. “They have told us all lives are lost,” one relative of a missing passenger told CNN.
The developments happened the same day Australian officials announced they had spotted two objects in the southern Indian Ocean that could be related to the flight, which has been missing since March 8 with 239 people aboard.
One object is “a grey or green circular object,” and the other is “an orange rectangular object,” the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
The objects are the latest in a series of sightings, including “suspicious objects” reported earlier Monday by a Chinese military plane that was involved in search efforts in the same region, authorities said.
So far, nothing has been definitively linked to Flight 370.
Earlier, Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s acting transportation minister, said only that “at the moment, there are new leads but nothing conclusive.”
A reporter on board the Chinese plane for China’s official Xinhua news agency said the search team saw “two relatively big floating objects with many white smaller ones scattered within a radius of several kilometers,” the agency reported Monday.
The Chinese plane was flying at 33,000 feet on its way back to Australia’s west coast when it made the sighting, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
But a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft, one of the military’s most sophisticated reconnaissance planes, that was tasked to investigate the objects was unable to find them, the authority said.
With the search in its third week, authorities have so far been unable to establish where exactly the missing plane is or why it flew off course from its planned journey from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
China has a particularly large stake in the search: Its citizens made up about two-thirds of the 227 passengers on the missing Boeing 777. Beijing has repeatedly called on Malaysian authorities, who are in charge of the overall search, to step up efforts to find the plane.
Malaysian and Australian authorities appeared to be more interested Monday in the two objects spotted by a Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion aircraft.
The Australian’s navy’s HMAS Success “is on scene and is attempting to locate the objects,” the Australian maritime authority said.
Hishammuddin said Australian authorities had said the objects could be retrieved “within the next few hours, or by tomorrow morning at the latest.”
Satellites focus search
Recent information from satellites identifying objects in the water that could be related to the plane has focused search efforts on an area roughly 1,500 miles southwest of the Australian city of Perth.
A total of 10 aircraft — from Australia, China the United States and Japan — were tasked with combing the search area Monday.
The aerial searches have been trained on the isolated part of ocean since last week, when Australia first announced that satellite imagery had detected possible objects that could be connected to the search.
Since then, China and France have said they also have satellite information pointing to floating debris in a similar area. The Chinese information came from images, and the French data came from satellite radar.
But Australian officials have repeatedly warned that the objects detected in satellite images may not turn out to be from the missing plane — they could be containers that have fallen off cargo ships, for example.
On Saturday, searchers found a wooden pallet as well as strapping belts, Australian authorities said. The use of wooden pallets is common in the airline industry, but also in the shipping industry.
Hishammuddin said Monday that Flight 370 was carrying wooden pallets, but that there was so far no evidence they are related to the ones sighted in the search area.
The investigation into the passenger jet’s disappearance has already produced a wealth of false leads and speculative theories. Previously, when the hunt was focused on the South China Sea near where the plane dropped off civilian radar, a number of sightings of debris proved to be unrelated to the search.
Plane said to have flown low
The sighting of the objects of interest by the Chinese plane came after a weekend during which other nuggets of information emerged about the movements of the errant jetliner on the night it vanished.
Military radar tracking shows that after making a sharp turn over the South China Sea, the plane changed altitude as it headed toward the Strait of Malacca, an official close to the investigation into the missing flight told CNN.
The plane flew as low as 12,000 feet at some point before it disappeared from radar, according to the official. It had reportedly been flying at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet when contact was lost with air traffic control.
The sharp turn seemed to be intentional, the official said, because executing it would have taken the Boeing 777 two minutes — a time period during which the pilot or co-pilot could have sent an emergency signal if there had been a fire or other emergency on board.
Authorities say the plane didn’t send any emergency signals, though some analysts say it’s still unclear whether the pilots tried but weren’t able to communicate because of a catastrophic failure of the aircraft’s systems.
The official, who is not authorized to speak to the media, told CNN that the area the plane flew in after the turn is a heavily trafficked air corridor and that flying at 12,000 feet would have kept the jet well out of the way of that traffic.
Malaysia disputes reprogramming
Also over the weekend, Malaysian authorities said the last transmission from the missing aircraft’s reporting system showed it heading to Beijing — a revelation that appears to undercut the theory that someone reprogrammed the plane’s flight path before the co-pilot signed off with air traffic controllers for the last time.
That reduces, but doesn’t rule out, suspicions about foul play in the cockpit.
Last week, CNN and other news organizations, citing unnamed sources, reported that authorities believed someone had reprogrammed the aircraft’s flight computer before the sign-off.
CNN cited sources who believed the plane’s flight computer must have been reprogrammed because it flew directly over navigational way points. A plane controlled by a human probably would not have been so precise, the sources said.
Malaysian authorities never confirmed that account, saying last week that the plane’s “documented flight path” had not been altered.
On Sunday, they clarified that statement further, saying the plane’s automated data reporting system included no route changes in its last burst, sent at 1:07 a.m. — 12 minutes before the last voice communication with flight controllers.
Analysts are divided about what the latest information could mean. Some argue it’s a sign that mechanical failure sent the plane suddenly off course. Others say there are still too many unknowns to eliminate any possibilities.
CNN aviation analyst Miles O’Brien called the fresh details about the flight a “game changer.”
“Now we have no evidence the crew did anything wrong,” he said. “And in fact, now, we should be operating with the primary assumption being that something bad happened to that plane shortly after they said good night.”
If a crisis on board caused the plane to lose pressure, he said, pilots could have chosen to deliberately fly lower to save passengers.
“You want to get down to 10,000 feet, because that is when you don’t have to worry about pressurization. You have enough air in the atmosphere naturally to keep everybody alive,” he said. “So part of the procedure for a rapid decompression … it’s called a high dive, and you go as quickly as you can down that to that altitude.”
Authorities have said pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah was highly experienced. On Monday, Malaysian authorities said Flight 370 was co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid’s sixth flight in a Boeing 777, and the first time when he was not traveling with an instructor pilot shadowing him.
“We do not see any problem with him,” said Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya.
China to release more details in the coming hours, official says
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) — China has new satellite images showing a large object floating in the southern Indian Ocean and will be sending ships to verify, the Malaysian transport minister said Saturday.
The object is 22.5 meters long and 13 meters wide (74 feet by 43 feet), Hishammuddin Hussein announced. He told reporters he’d just gotten the information, and China will release more details in the “coming hours.”
China later said the satellite images showing the “suspected floating object” were captured four days ago, on March 18.
The floating object was about 77 miles from where earlier satellite images spotted floating debris.
The search for the missing Malaysian jetliner expanded Saturday as various countries dispatched additional aircraft and ships to scan the choppy waters of the southern Indian Ocean.
At least six search flights were involved Saturday, including two private jets.
Though the two civilian jets did not have radar, their role was crucial, authorities said.
“It is more likely that a pair of eyes are going to identify something floating in the ocean,” Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said.
The first two planes to sweep the southern Indian Ocean on Saturday found no wreckage or debris, its pilots said.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished on March 8 with 239 people aboard destined for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.
Intensified, expanded search
The search area expanded by 50% on Saturday.
“Operations continue, and today they plan to search an area of approximately 10,500 square nautical miles,” Hishammuddin said Saturday.
In addition to two Chinese planes that arrived in Australia, Beijing is sending two more ships to join five already in the southern corridor.
“Two Indian aircraft, a P-8 Poseidon and a C-130 Hercules, arrived in Malaysia last night to assist with the search,” he said.
Seven countries — China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Laos, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan — informed investigators that based on preliminary information, their nations had no radar sightings of missing jetliner.
Clues, but no proof
An exhaustive search covering 2.97 million square miles — nearly the size of the continental United States — has yielded some clues, but no proof of where the Boeing 777 is or what happened to it.
One of the most notable leads revolved around two large objects detected by satellite a week ago floating on waters over 1,400 miles off Australia’s west coast.
“The fact that it’s six days ago that this imagery was captured does mean that clearly what objects were there, are likely to have moved a significant different distance as a result of currents and winds,” Truss said.
“It’s also possible that they’ve just drifted to the bottom of the ocean bed, and the ocean in this area is between 3 and 5 kilometers deep. So it’s a very, very deep part of the ocean, very remote. And all that makes it particularly difficult.”
Debris is a common sight in the waters in that part of the ocean, he said, and includes containers that fall off ships.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Friday defended the decision to announce the find, saying Australia owes it to families of those missing “to give them information as soon as it’s to hand.”
But he didn’t make any promises.
“It could just be a container that has fallen off a ship,” Abbott said during a visit to Papua New Guinea. “We just don’t know.”
Malaysia’s interim transportation minister tried to reset expectations for a quick resolution to the mystery after the satellite discovery.
“This is going to be a long haul,” Hishammuddin Hussein said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the Navy and policy experts to look at the availability and usefulness of U.S. military undersea technology to try to find the plane’s wreckage and its data recorders, a U.S. military official said.
The United States, which has had a P-8 aircraft working out of Perth, Australia, and Navy ships involved in the search, has spent $2.5 million so far on the entire effort, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steven Warren said Friday.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said Friday that the U.S. space agency will mine its existing satellite data and try to capture fresh images that might aid in the search. Its satellites can detect objects as small as 30 feet (98 meters).
First lady Michelle Obama, while on a trip to Beijing, said the United States is keeping the families of the missing passengers in its thoughts.
“As my husband has said, (the) United States (is) offering as many resources as possible to assist in the search,” she said.
Countries from central Asia to Australia are also engaged in the search along an arc drawn by authorities based on satellite pings received from the plane hours after it vanished. One arc tracks the southern Indian Ocean zone that’s the focus of current attention.
“We intend to continue the search until we are absolutely satisfied that further searching would be futile, and that day is not in sight,” the deputy prime minister said. “We will continue the effort, we’ll continue to liaise with our international allies in this search.”
The other tracks over parts of Cambodia, Laos, China and into Kazakhstan.
Malaysian authorities were awaiting permission from Kazakhstan’s government to use the country as a staging area for the northern corridor search, Hishammuddin said.
Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya told reporters Saturday that a transcript obtained by The Telegraph newspaper is “inaccurate,” but did not provide additional details.
The Telegraph reported Friday it had a transcript documenting 54 minutes of back-and-forth between the cockpit and ground control from taxiing in Kuala Lumpur to the final message of “All right, good night.”
The alleged transcript reported by the Telegraph contains seemingly routine conversations about which runway to use and what altitude to fly at.
One unexplained element, according to the British newspaper, is a call, in which someone in the cockpit stated that the aircraft was at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet — something that had been done just six minutes earlier. Twelve minutes after that comes the “good night” message, at around the time Flight 370 was being transferred to Vietnam’s control.
Another wrinkle: Malaysia Airlines chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the plane was carrying a cargo of lithium-ion batteries, although he didn’t specify the volume of the shipment.
Lithium-ion batteries are commonly used in laptops and cell phones, and have been known to explode, although that occurs rarely.
They were implicated in the fatal crash of a UPS cargo plane in Dubai in 2010, and lithium-ion batteries used to power components on Boeing 787s were blamed for fires in those planes.
There’s no evidence the batteries played a role in the plane’s disappearance, and Ahmad said they are routine cargo aboard aircraft.
“They are not declared dangerous goods” he said, adding that they were “some small batteries, not big batteries.”
Malaysian authorities say they believe the missing plane was deliberately flown off course on its scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
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Search and rescue crews from several countries were scrambling Saturday to locate a Malaysia Airlines plane with 239 people aboard, including three Americans, that disappeared after losing contact with air traffic control on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The airline said the Boeing 777-200 “lost contact” with Subang Air Traffic Control at 2:40 a.m., two hours into the flight. The plane had been expected to land in Beijing at 6:30 a.m. Saturday.
China’s state-run news agency Xinhua reported the plane was lost in airspace controlled by Vietnam, and never made contact with Chinese air traffic controllers. There have been no reports of a plane crashing into Chinese waters, and China is assisting the airline in its search for the plane.
Vietnamese air force planes on Saturday spotted two large oil slicks in the area where the plane vanished in the first sign that the aircraft carrying 239 people on board, including two infants and 12 crew members, had crashed.
The slicks were each between 6 miles and 9 miles long. There was no confirmation that the slicks were related to the missing plane, but the statement said they were consistent with the kinds that would be produced by the two fuel tanks of a crashed jetliner.
The airline said in a statement that it is currently notifying next-of-kin about the situation. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members,” Malaysian Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said.
Those aboard included 152 passengers from China, 38 from Malaysia, seven from Indonesia, six from Australia, five from India, three from the U.S., and others from France, New Zealand, Canada, Ukraine, Russia, Italy, Taiwan, the Netherlands and Austria.
The State Department confirmed that three Americans were aboard the jet.
The department says in a statement that officials from the U.S. Embassies in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Beijing are in contact with families of the passengers. The department says it’s working to determine if other U.S. citizens may have been on the flight.
No additional information was released.
“We are extremely worried,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in Beijing. “We are doing all we can to get details. The news is very disturbing. We hope everyone on the plane is safe.”
Vietnamese website VN Express said a Vietnamese search and rescue official reported that signals from the plane were detected about 140 miles southwest of Vietnam’s southernmost Ca Mau province. A Vietnam rescue official later denied the report.
“We have been seeking but no signal from the plane yet,” Pham Hien, director of a Vietnam maritime search and rescue coordination center in Vung Tau, told Reuters.
Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein also denied a Vietnamese state media report that the plane had crashed off south Vietnam, saying the government had not identified a crash scene. Asked whether terrorism was suspected, he said authorities had “no information but we are looking at all possibilities.”
Malaysian, Singaporean and Vietnamese search officials were coordinating operations. Lai Xuan Thanh, director of Vietnam’s civil aviation authority, said Vietnam had sent aircraft and ships scour 11,200-square-kilometer area where the plane was last known to be. Vietnamese fishermen in the area have been asked to report any suspected sign of the missing plane.
The plane “lost all contact and radar signal one minute before it entered Vietnam’s air traffic control,” Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of the Vietnamese army, said in a statement issued by the government.
More than 10 hours after last contact, officials from several countries were struggling to locate the plane. All countries in the possible flight path of the missing aircraft were performing a “communications and radio search,” said John Andrews, deputy chief of the Philippines’ civil aviation agency.
Xinhua reported that China has dispatched two maritime rescue ships to the South China Sea to help in the search and rescue efforts.
Malaysia Airlines said it is working with authorities who have activated a Search and Rescue team to locate the plane. The route would take the aircraft from Malaysia across to Vietnam and China.
The airline says the plane’s pilot is Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a 53-year-old who has been with the airline for over 30 years. The plane’s first officer is Fariq Ab.Hamid, a 27-year-old who joined the airline in 2007. Both are Malaysians.
At Beijing’s airport, Zhai Le was waiting for her friends, a couple, who were on their way back to the Chinese capital on the flight. She said she was very concerned because she hadn’t been able to reach them.
At Beijing’s airport, authorities posted a notice asking relatives and friends of passengers to gather at a hotel about nine miles from the airport to wait for further information, and provided a shuttle bus service. A woman wept aboard the shuttle bus while saying on a mobile phone, “They want us to go to the hotel. It cannot be good!”
Relatives and friends of passengers were escorted into a private area at the Lido Hotel, and reporters were kept away. A man in a gray hooded sweatshirt later stormed out complaining about a lack of information. The man, who said he was a Beijing resident but declined to give his name, said he was anxious because his mother was on board the flight with a group of 10 tourists.
“We have been waiting for hours,” he said. “And there is still no verification.”
Malaysia Airlines has 15 Boeing 777-200 jets in its fleet of about 100 planes. The state-owned carrier last month reported its fourth straight quarterly loss.
The 777 had not had a fatal crash in its 20 year history until the Asiana crash in San Francisco in July 2013.
Boeing said on its Twitter account it is monitoring the situation, and “our thoughts are with everyone on board.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report