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Wall Street Journal reporter Andy Pasztor made news today with his story that missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370 could have flown for four more hours after its last confirmed contact, based on information routinely relayed from its Rolls Royce engines.
Malaysian officials denied that today. But Pasztor also claims that American investigators are debating whether “something weird and bizarre” and still unexplained happened in the cockpit, and that the Boeing 777 did not crash when it dropped off the radar, but may have landed.
Pasztor, a longtime airline industry reporter, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss his reporting.
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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
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HOBSON: But first to the search for the missing flight, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which remains very confusing. Malaysia's acting transport minister denied a report that says the Boeing 777 might have flown four more hours and an additional 2,500 miles after its last confirmed contact based on data routinely sent from its Rolls Royce engines.
HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN: As far as Rolls Royce and Boeing are concerned, those reports are inaccurate.
HOBSON: Well, those reports came in today's Wall Street Journal, and the Journal's Andy Pasztor wrote the story. He joins us now. Andy, welcome.
ANDY PASZTOR: Good to be with you.
HOBSON: Well, let's get to the denials from the Malaysian officials in a moment. But first based on your reporting and the latest reporting that you have done today, what do you think happened to this plane?
PASZTOR: So it's very hard to tell what happened to the plane. What we know is that there's additional complexity to investigation that's already been incredibly complex. U.S. aviation and law enforcement investigators suspect that this aircraft remained intact and flew for up to four hours after the transponder stopped functioning, and it dropped off of the radar system.
And they know this from transmissions from the aircraft to a satellite, which indicated basically that the plane was saying I'm still here, I'm operating correctly. They may not have gotten all the detailed data from the plane that they would normally get, but these transmissions to the satellite continued, and so the debate among investigators is not whether the plane remained intact, but it could, it's possible that it actually landed for some period, perhaps a short period, during those additional four hours.
But it's increasingly clear to these investigators that something really weird and bizarre happened in the cockpit and that this plane did not fall out of the sky when it dropped off the radar scopes.
HOBSON: When you say that it landed, you mean that it landed, not that it crash landed, but that it landed on a runway?
PASZTOR: This is the increasingly complex and in some ways unbelievable scenario that investigators are putting together, yes, that it landed on some runway. Now we have to say that it's not clear where it is currently, whether it crashed eventually or whether it landed somewhere and what its current state is. But these transmissions from the aircraft, which are still being analyzed, and they're quite difficult to understand precisely, I'm told, and there are various interpretations of exactly what they mean, but the consensus is that the plane did not crash when it dropped off the radar scopes. And it remained intact and probably flew for up to four hours but certainly for a big portion of those hours.
HOBSON: So this would put to rest the theory that we heard yesterday on this program from the aviation expert Mary Schiavo, that perhaps there was a slow decompression, that the jet started to shut some of its systems down and that people on the plane would've been unconscious, but the plane could've actually flown by itself for hours.
PASZTOR: It's an incredibly dangerous thing to start speculating about precise causes of an aviation accident, particularly a complex one like this. So I wouldn't presume to say what's most likely. But I think what our reporting shows is that the investigation has broadened from sort of a classic safety investigation to much more of a combined law enforcement investigation.
And the aircraft remained intact. I keep coming back to that because that seems to be a major point. Where it was and what it was doing and what the pilots or someone else onboard may have been doing is unclear, but I think it's becoming incontrovertible that the systems on the plane were intact, and it was communicating with the satellite, indicating that.
HOBSON: Why is your reporting, then, being denied by the Malaysian officials?
PASZTOR: Well, what they're denying actually is a very precise and limited part of what we reported. We said that some of this information came from an engine monitoring system, and they're specifically saying that's not true, the engine monitoring system did not work past the point at which the plane disappeared off the radar scopes.
And what I'm saying is that there are other ways of getting information off this plane, and the information did come off this plane. And no one is denying at this point the central point that this plane could have flown for hours after the - after the point at which it was supposed to have basically dropped out of the sky.
HOBSON: Well, what does this mean for the search for the plane, Andy Pasztor? Where are officials looking at this point?
PASZTOR: Well, I think that's the sort of next big question, and that may be the biggest question of all. I believe that it's very much up in the air. I don't think that they have a really good sense of where the plane ended up, whether it was in the water or somewhere on land. And so therefore the search is ever widening, ever broadening, more and more areas covered, and I think that indicates that they really don't have a good sense of exactly where to look.
HOBSON: What do you make of how Malaysian officials are handling this search and the inquiries from the media? We heard the other day from a BBC reporter in Kuala Lumpur that Malaysian government officials are not used to this kind of scrutiny and questioning.
PASZTOR: Well, almost - that would be true for almost any country. This is a high-profile and international, extremely complex aviation investigation, aviation crash investigation. Very few countries have had experiences with that. So I think you have to take that into some consideration.
I will say that the Malaysians have had a pattern of saying one thing one day and then saying something else the next and giving conflicting reports in terms of what inside their own government they believe is the most likely scenario, should be the next step. So they have not - I would say they've not done the best job of trying to get organized. But it's a very hard task, and many countries would falter or at least struggle if they faced the same task.
HOBSON: Andy Pasztor, who covers the airline industry for the Wall Street Journal and reported that it's possible that this plane, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, actually landed. We will continue to follow this story. Andy, thanks so much.
PASZTOR: Certainly. I'm glad to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.