U .S. investigators believe that the lost Malaysian passanger jet may have flown for four hours after losing contact with air traffic controllers, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
“If confirmed, the report would represent another dramatic twist in what is already one of the most baffling mysteries in modern aviation history – the fate of Flight MH370, which took off from Kuala Lumpur early on Saturday and dropped off civilian radar screens less than an hour into its flight to Beijing,” Reuters writes.
On the sixth day of the intesified search, planes were sweeping an area of sea where satellite images had shown what could be debris, but had so far found no sign of the airliner.
According to sources familiar with the matter, national security officials believed the jet flew for a total of five hours, based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the Boeing 777’s engines as part of a standard monitoring program.
If so, the plane with the 239 people on board could have flown on for an additional distance of about 2,200 miles, potentially reaching shores of Pakistan, destinations in the Indian Ocean or Mongolia.
Latest news claimed that the missing Boeing 777 made a U-turn near where it last made contact with civilian air traffic control and was then tracked for an hour by military radar near Pulau Perak, at the northern approach to the strait of Malacca.
The Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest shipping channels, runs along Malaysia’s west coast. The airline said on Saturday that the flight carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew last had contact off the east coast Malaysian town of Kota Bharu.
“It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait,” the military official, who has been briefed on investigations, told Reuters.
Local newspaper Berita Harian quoted Malaysian air force chief Gen. Rodzali Daud as saying radar at a military base had detected the airliner at 2:40 a.m. on Saturday near Pulau Perak at the northern approach to the strait, a busy waterway that separates the western coast of Malaysia and Indonesia’s Sumatra island. It was flying at a height of about 9,000 metres (29,500 ft).
“The last time the flight was detected close to Pulau Perak, in the Melaka Straits, at 2.40am by the control tower before the signal was lost,” the paper quoted Rodzali as saying.
However, a spokesman for the Malaysian prime minister’s office shared that, according to the senior military officials, there was no evidence the plane recrossed the Malaysian peninsula, only that it may have tried to turn back.
“As far as they know, except for the air turn-back, there is no new development,” said the spokesman, Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad.
The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur, on the western coast of Malaysia, early Saturday en route to Beijing. It flew overland across Malaysia and crossed the eastern coast into the Gulf of Thailand at 35,000 feet (11,000 meters).
There it disappeared from radar screens. The airline says the pilots did not send any distress signals, suggesting a sudden and possibly catastrophic incident.