Investigators probe why transponders on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went off

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—Malaysian authorities are looking into why the transponders on Flight 370 stopped transmitting data, including the possibility they were deliberately switched off, amid new information that showed the plane continued flying for hours after it fell off civilian radar a week ago.

The missing jet transmitted its location repeatedly to satellites over the course of five hours after it disappeared from radar, people briefed on the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

The satellites also received speed and altitude information about the plane from its intermittent “pings,” the people said. The final ping was sent from over water, at what one of these people called a normal cruising altitude. They added that it was unclear why the pings stopped.

One of the people, an industry official, said it was possible that the system sending them had been disabled by someone on board.

If the plane remained airborne for the entire five hours, it could have flown more than 2,200 nautical miles from its last confirmed position over the Gulf of Thailand, the people said.

Defense and Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein declined to confirm those details “at the moment,” but he said investigators will probe why the plane’s transponders, which send signals about the aircraft to identify it to radar, went off.

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Hong Lei, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, chided Malaysia for not sharing information just three days after Beijing asked the country to accelerate its probe and speed up its search efforts on behalf of the families of passengers on the flight. Of the 239 passengers on the plane, more than 150 were Chinese.

“China urgently appeals to Malaysia for all information they have regarding the search,” said Mr. Hong. “That will not only help China with its search but also help all sides in the search to make their search more effective and accurately targeted.”
Malaysian authorities said they are working with experts from the U.S. and will receive help from a British team, composed of the country’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch and engine maker Rolls-Royce, said Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director-general of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation.

“They also have indicated that they are studying the possibility of satellite communication,” Mr. Azharuddin said at a briefing at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

The international search for the plane comprised more than 10 countries and began expanding farther into the Indian Ocean and Andaman Sea this week. Indian aircraft and ships began fanning out Thursday around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a distant Indian territory toward the coast of Myanmar, and across more than 13,000 square miles of open sea.

“We’re looking everywhere; on the western and eastern coast of Andaman,” said V.S.R. Murthy, inspector general of the coast guard on the islands. “Right now, it’s just a blind hunt.”

The U.S., Australia, and New Zealand have also sent aircraft, and Japan said on Wednesday that it would send a two more planes to the region. Bangladesh is also joining the search, with two light patrol aircraft and two frigates that will scour the coastal waters of the Bay of Bengal on Saturday.

Airline workers and investigators have declined to comment on the flight search in recent days.

Malaysia Airlines, which is involved more with caring for passengers’ families than in the investigation, has hired John Bailey, a Singapore-based communications expert to advise on handling media and public aspects of the investigation.

Also, NYT recommends Pilot’s Rumour Forum.

UPDATE: 8 pm Eastern.

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