Stunning new information is being reported by Andy Pasztor at the Wall Street Journal: the Boeing engines on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 which went missing on Saturday automatically transmitted information several hours after the plane was last seen on radar, indicating that it flew on to an unknown location.
After flying northeast on its scheduled path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, the aircraft’s transponders stopped emitting signals about an hour into the flight, at 1:30 am, when the plane was still south of Vietnam. According to a Malaysian air force official, the plane then made a turn to the west and headed back over the Malaysian peninsula and over the Strait of Malacca. At that point, Malaysian radar lost sight of the plane at around 2:40 am.
But now, American investigators and national security officials are saying that several hours after that last radar contact, the airplane’s Boeing engines automatically sent information as part of their normal operation, and that signal was picked up. Writes Pasztor:
The engines’ onboard monitoring system is provided by their manufacturer, Rolls-Royce, and it periodically sends bursts of data about engine health, operations and aircraft movements to facilities on the ground.
Rolls-Royce couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
As part of its maintenance agreements, Malaysia Airlines transmits its engine data live to Rolls-Royce for analysis. The system compiles data from inside the 777’s two Trent 800 engines and transmits snapshots of performance, as well as the altitude and speed of the jet.
The engines communicate with the ground every half hour, and now U.S. investigators believe the engines indicated the plane may have been flying up to five hours after taking off from Malaysia.
A total flight time of five hours after departing Kuala Lumpur means the Boeing 777 could have continued for an additional distance of about 2,200 nautical miles, reaching points as far as the Indian Ocean, the border of Pakistan or even the Arabian Sea, based on the jet’s cruising speed.
If the plane flew that far without transponder signals or communication from the pilots, it suggests that MH370 may have been commandeered.
“The latest revelations come as local media reported that Malaysian police visited the home of at least one of the two pilots,” Pasztor writes.
UPDATE: CNN reports that Malaysian acting Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein is called the report of engine data “inaccurate,” and Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya denied that Rolls Royce and Boeing had received data from the engines after the plane disappeared at 1:30 am. CNN said that a Rolls Royce represented declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.
Watch video about the transponder being shut off…