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Friday, March 14, 2014

Theories Abound On What Happened To Missing Plane

A Royal Malaysian Air Force Navigator captain, Izam Fareq Hassan, looks at a map onboard a Malaysian Air Force aircraft during a search and rescue operation to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 plane, over the Strait of Malacca on March 14, 2014.  (Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images)

A Royal Malaysian Air Force Navigator captain, Izam Fareq Hassan, looks at a map onboard a Malaysian Air Force aircraft during a search and rescue operation to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 plane, over the Strait of Malacca on March 14, 2014. (Mohd Rasfan/AFP/Getty Images)

Today we’re learning that not only did the missing Malaysia Airlines plane send its position repeatedly to satellites for five hours after it disappeared off the radar screen, but those pings were also sending details about the plane’s speed and altitude. The satellite data could help reveal the route of the missing plane.

But in a press conference earlier today, Malaysian officials continued to deny these findings. Andy Pasztor, has been covering this story for The Wall Street Journal, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the latest.

Yesterday, Pasztor made news with his story that missing Malaysian Airlines flight 370 could have flown for four more hours after its last confirmed contact. See our conversation with him yesterday here.

Reporter

  • Andy Pasztor, longtime airline industry reporter for The Wall Street Journal.

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

Well, now to the latest on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which went missing almost exactly a week ago. The latest reporting appears to confirm the theory that the plane flew on for hours after it lost contact with air traffic control. But in a press conference earlier today, Malaysian officials continued to deny those findings.

And now the Associated Press is reporting that investigators are looking into the possibility that this could have been an act of piracy. Joining us now is Andy Pasztor, who's been covering this story for The Wall Street Journal. Andy, yesterday you told us the plane may have landed somewhere. What does your reporting today tell you about what might have happened?

ANDY PASZTOR: This morning it seems as though the story is moving pretty quickly in the direction of a law enforcement investigation. It's still very unclear what happened to this aircraft, whether it landed or crashed. And it's not even clear where it was headed. But what is increasingly becoming obvious, I think, is that this is moving into a law enforcement phase.

No formal determination has been made that a crime has been committed, but there are too many things that happened on the aircraft, turning systems off and also the sophisticated way in which it was flown, to evade both radar and try to avoid collisions with other aircraft, the altitude that it was flying at.

It just all points to either one person or a number of people who really knew the systems on the plane, they knew air traffic control, who were determined to evade detection to really over a span of more than five hours when it appears it was flying.

HOBSON: But there's no sense at this point of whether if that's the case, it was one of the pilots or somebody else on the aircraft?

PASZTOR: I think that's - we're still too early into this investigation, and I think the investigators really are just beginning to get their hands around it. And of course we'll need to see a transition from what had started out as a traditional air traffic, you know, aviation safety crash, if you will, to a law enforcement investigation. And that raises all sorts of issues because as you just reported, the Malaysians so far have been quite conflicted and I'd say not the most competent in dealing with the investigation.

They've given out mixed messages. They have not been very consistent. And so therefore if they will be in charge of a law enforcement probe, which appears likely, then there are big questions about how they will work with the U.S. and other partners or countries.

HOBSON: Andy, Reuters reported today that military radar data is suggesting that the plane was deliberately flown off course in a pattern that follows what are called waypoints. Can you tell us about that?

PASZTOR: Well, that's right. And that's one of the indications among many that shows that someone who was flying it knew what they were doing. There are designated points on these air routes in the sky that you should go past if you want to be on a specific course. And this plane was doing that, except it was flying at an altitude between two air routes, if you will, in the sky. It was flying at 29,500 feet. And so it was - it was doing that, the suspicion is, to avoid collisions on those other - the air routes above and below because it did not have a transponder on. So air traffic controllers couldn't see its precise altitude.

HOBSON: But if it did land, as it may have done, is there an area that could have had a runway big enough for a 777 to land without being detected?

PASZTOR: Well now we're really into the huge area of speculation. And you can probably name - I can and you can and your listeners - can name five or six potential places, perhaps. The Maldives has been mentioned as one. There are others. But at this point it's really too early. It's not even clear where it was headed, and certainly it's not clear whether it ever made it to land.

I mean, let's not forget we're only a week into this investigation. But there's absolutely no wreckage that's been found. There's no debris that's been found. So I think that's the next step. The first step really is to determine whether this is a criminal investigation, and I think we should see that relatively quickly.

HOBSON: What does this mean for the search? Because every time you see the circle of where this plane is being looked for, it gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

PASZTOR: That's precisely right, and that shows that unfortunately the folks who are searching, including the U.S. - they're not in charge, but they certainly have some sophisticated airplanes and ships helping - they don't really have a good idea. And it keeps shifting. And that's because this is a very perplexing and troubling sequence of events, and I think that they really are still looking for the most likely place.

And on top of that, for another layer of complication, the plane's emergency locator transmitter, which should transmit to a satellite the location of any wreckage, nothing has been picked up. So that's one more puzzling part of this whole sort of conundrum, if you will.

HOBSON: Andy Pasztor, who's been covering this story for The Wall Street Journal, Andy, thanks so much.

PASZTOR: You're welcome.

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

And we have a quick note going into the break. Four years after the massive Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill, the EPA has lifted its ban on BP seeking new contracts and leases in the Gulf of Mexico. Remember 11 rig workers were killed. BP was eventually forced to sell $38 billion in assets to meet costs of cleaning up and compensating victims.

According to the EPA, the new agreement is fair, but that's not enough to reassure opponents of BP's return, including the Public Citizens Energy Program in D.C. We'll continue to follow this story for you, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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  • franciscofranco

    Great coverage on this missing flight story. I am puzzled as to why there is an option for a pilot to disable the transponder or any other communications or recording device. What benign motive would a pilot have for doing so?

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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