TIME Flight MH370

Search Narrows for Flight 370

Leut. Ryan Davis—Australian Defence/AFP/Getty Images A handout photo taken on April 7, 2014 and released on April 8 by Australian Defence shows Able Seaman Clearance Diver Michael Arnold being towed by Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield's fast response craft as he scans the water for debris from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370 in the southern Indian Ocean.

Investigators are racing the clock to find the plane before its black boxes run out of batteries. The official overseeing the search said he is "optimistic"

Signals from a site deep in the Indian Ocean picked up by an Australian naval vessel Tuesday have led investigators to believe they’re closing in on the site of the lost Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

“I’m now optimistic that we will find the aircraft, or what is left of the aircraft, in the ‘not-too-distant future,’” said Angus Houston, the Australian official overseeing the search. “But we haven’t found it yet, because this is a very challenging business.”

The search area has now been reduced to an area of 22,364 square miles, roughly the size of West Virginia, located more than 1,000 miles northwest of Perth, Australia.

The search for the Boeing 777, which vanished with 239 souls aboard on March 8, has neared a critical stage as time runs out to locate the plane before the battery life expires in its “black boxes,” which send off the signals authorities believe they’ve picked up. Batteries on the black boxes are designed to last roughly 30 days, an expiration date that passed Tuesday. Once authorities have determined to stop using the ping locator that scans for black box signals a drone submarine will be deployed to painstakingly create a sonar map of the search area seabed, something that may be “not far away,” Houston said.

Locating the boxes once the batteries have run out would be extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, according to the Associated Press.

“Hopefully in a matter of days, we will be able to find something on the bottom that might confirm that this is the last resting place of MH370,” Houston said.


TIME Aviation

This Is How Much The Search For The Missing Plane Has Cost

The costs of the international search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continue to build a month after the jet disappeared with 239 people aboard

The search for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 has already cost $44 million, according to a new report, and that figure could reach well into the hundreds of millions before the search is over, making it the most expensive search in aviation history.

The $44 million figure, based on a Reuters estimate, includes money spent by the United States, China, Australia and Vietnam alone, but not spending by the other 22 countries that have contributed to the search. The figure is based on estimates of hourly costs of the various assets dedicated to the search. More has been spent in one month searching for the missing plane than was spent in two years searching for Air France 447, which crashed in the Atlantic in 2009.

So far, Australia has borne the brunt of the expenses, since it is leading the search in the southern Indian Ocean off the western coast, but Prime Minister Tony Abbot indicated there may be some financial settling up in the future. “It’s only reasonable that we should bear this cost—it’s an act of international citizenship,” Abbot said last week. “At some point, there might need to be a reckoning, there might need to be some kind of tallying, but nevertheless we are happy to be as helpful as we can to all the countries that have a stake in this.”



Objects Recovered in Hunt for Missing Jet

Malaysia Plane
Jason Reed/Pool—AP An object floats in the southern Indian Ocean in this picture taken from a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft searching for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, March 29, 2014.

Search ships retrieved objects from the Indian Ocean and Chinese aircraft spotted debris, but they have not been connected to missing MH370

Two ships involved in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 retrieved objects from the Indian Ocean Saturday, but officials haven’t yet connected the finds to the lost airliner.

A Chinese plane, meanwhile, spotted other debris matching the colors of the missing Boeing 777, but that find also has yet to be linked to the jet, the Associated Press reports. The debris spotted Saturday was white, red and orange in color, according to Chinese media reports. The missing Boeing 777 is red and white.

Three weeks have passed since MH370 disappeared after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing. Investigators have identified a large zone where the jet may have gone down, most recently combing an area about 2.5 hours from Perth, Australia. However, the reason the jet flew far off its intended path and its current location remain a mystery.

Here’s the latest update from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the search for MH370:

AMSA Update 3/29


TIME Flight MH370

French Satellite Offers Fresh Lead in Hunt for Missing Jet

A crew member aboard a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft searches for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 over the southern Indian Ocean
Jason Reed—Reuters A crew member aboard a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft searches for the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 over the southern Indian Ocean on March 22, 2014

New satellite images that may show debris from the missing Malaysian Airlines flight seem to keep popping up, but search planes keep drawing a blank

The latest clue in the two-week search for a missing Malaysia Airlines jet comes from a French satellite, which has picked up images of what may be debris from the Boeing 777 in the southern Indian Ocean.

In a statement Sunday, Malaysia’s Ministry of Transport said the country had received images from French authorities “showing potential objects in the vicinity of the southern corridor.” Search efforts have been focused on this area, southwest of Perth, Australia, after both Chinese and Australian satellites picked up evidence of objects floating in the area in the past week, the Associated Press reports.

No evidence of the missing flight MH370 has been found, although searchers discovered a wooden pallet of the sort used when loading some airplanes. The airliner has been missing since March 8 after vanishing while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people, most of them Chinese nationals, on board.

Authorities say the search could be hampered Sunday by a tropical cyclone in the vicinity.


TIME Malaysia Airlines flight MH370

Malaysian Children Make Artful Plea for Jet’s Safety on Airport Wall

With the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 entering its second week, Malaysian children turned an airport wall at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur airport into a colorful and emotional plea for the passengers’ safe return.

TIME Aviation

China Finds No Terrorism Link Among Passengers on Missing Jet

Background checks on 154 people aboard missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 show none are linked to Uighur Muslim separatists

China’s ambassador in Kuala Lumpur said Tuesday that the country has completed background checks on all of its nationals who were aboard Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 and found no links to terrorism.

Ambassador Huang Huikang said that background checks on the 154 Chinese passengers aboard flight MH370 did not uncover any evidence suggesting they were involved in an act of terrorism, the Associated Press reports. The announcement came after speculation that Uighur Muslim separatists from far western China might have been involved in the plane’s disappearance on March 8. Malaysian authorities are investigating the backgrounds of the pilots and ground crew and have asked intelligence agencies from countries with passengers on the plane to conduct background checks on its citizens.

More than a week after the plane’s mysterious disappearance, the search area has expanded to encompass an area almost the size of theUnited States.

On Tuesday, furious Chinese families threatened to go on a hunger strike until the Malaysian government releases more information about the plane’s disappearance. Ten days after the plane went missing, families vented their frustration and China criticized Malaysia and Malaysian Airlines for not providing relatives of Chines passengers with more definitive information. “China has all along demanded that the Malaysian side and Malaysia Airlines earnestly respond to the reasonable requests of the Chinese families,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, according to Reuters.

The search for the plane has expanded across a massive area of the Indian Ocean, which has some of the deepest waters on Earth. The AP reports that Australian ships alone are searching 600,000 square kilometers (232,000 square miles) of the ocean, and U.S. and Indonesian planes and ships are also searching for the missing plane.

A report in the New York Times suggested that the missing Boeing 777 made its first off-course turn to the west after a heading change was entered into the aircraft’s flight computer, a move that requires advanced knowledge of the plane’s flight systems.


TIME Flight MH370

Missing Airliner’s Route Reportedly Changed by Computer Entry

Ted Aljibe—AFP/Getty Images Students walk past a giant mural featuring the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, on the grounds of their school in Manila's financial district of Makati on March 18, 2014

A new report suggests the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 made its first off-course turn to the west after a heading change was entered into the aircraft's flight computer, a move that requires advanced knowledge of the plane's flight systems

The missing Malaysia Airlines airliner first deviated from its set flight path following an entry into its flight computer, according to a new report.

The New York Times, citing “senior American officials,” reports Flight MH370’s first unexpected turn to the west was made “through a computer system” in the aircraft’s cockpit. That revelation is significant because changing the aircraft’s route via the flight computer requires a more intimate understanding of the Boeing 777’s flight systems than manually manipulating the control yoke to change heading.

Commercial jets and other large aircraft typically travel the skies via a system of waypoints, each identified by a five-character code. Those waypoints are manually entered into an aircraft’s flight computer so the airplane’s autopilot system can fly the desired route. Pilots can insert new waypoints into an aircraft’s flight computer to change the aircraft’s course midflight if asked to do so by an air-traffic controller or for other reasons.

The Times report suggests that someone on board the aircraft did indeed enter a new waypoint into Flight MH370’s computer. However, it remains unclear whether the waypoint change was made before or after the flight began.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that data from the aircraft indicated “someone made a manual change in the plane’s direction.” That report, though, didn’t specify whether someone on board the plane had made a change in the aircraft’s flight computer or used the aircraft’s yoke to change its direction.

Flight MH370 has been missing since disappearing from radar screens on March 8, triggering a huge search operation that currently involves 26 nations. Many theories have been considered to explain why the plane would go so drastically off course in the absence of much solid evidence.

[The New York Times]

TIME closeup

Pictures of the Week: March 7 – March 14

From the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 and a deadly explosion in New York, to a feline beauty show in Romania and high heeled, pole dancing robots in Germany, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

TIME Aviation

Malaysian Plane’s Unprecedented Disappearance Deepens Asian Tensions

Crew members from the Royal Malaysian Air Force look through windows of a Malaysian Air Force CN235 aircraft during a Search and Rescue operation to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, in the Straits of Malacca, March 13, 2014.
Samsul Said—Reuters Crew members from the Royal Malaysian Air Force look through windows of an aircraft during an operation to find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the Strait of Malacca on March 13, 2014

Officials in several Asian countries are frustrated with Malaysia's handling of the hunt, with questions of why there’s so much contradictory information

Frustration at the sluggish rate at which the Malaysian government is releasing updates on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has rapidly turned into suspicion — with China, echoed by voices in Vietnam and even inside Malaysia, demanding explanations as to why so much of the information released from Kuala Lumpur has been vague and contradictory.

It has been six days now since MH370, carrying 239 passengers, vanished over the ocean en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. The absence of solid information released by Malaysia, which is leading the search, has been filled with bursts of wild conjecture from officials and media that have compounded the anxiety, confusion and grief of relatives and friends of those missing.

Air-force chief General Rodzali Daud was quoted in local media on Tuesday saying that the plane had changed course toward the Strait of Malacca, sparking rumors that it may not have crashed. Later, however, he denied making the statement, despite a high-ranking official confirming the report. Then on Wednesday, Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said officials had detected radar signals that they thought might be from MH370, but that it had taken them four days to release the data.

Vietnam, one of the first countries to join the hunt for the plane, is among those growing increasingly frustrated by Malaysia’s messaging. Local and international media have spent the past three days lingering in airless rooms at the air-traffic-command center on Phu Quoc Island, southwest of Ho Chi Minh City, awaiting updates. But they have gleaned little. Vietnam has deployed planes and ships to aid the operation, and on Thursday morning scrambled four aircraft following the release of Chinese satellite images that appeared to show large chunks of debris floating in the South China Sea. Pilots returned having spotted nothing.

China’s subsequent admission that the images were released “by mistake” has added further strain to a search operation unprecedented in both size and its extent of multiparty cooperation. Beijing itself berated the Malaysian government over Kuala Lumpur’s perceived stalling, with China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang stressing on March 10 that Malaysian authorities should “step up their efforts and speed up their investigation.”

The Malaysian government has defended itself, with Defense Minister Hussein telling reporters on Wednesday that “it’s only confusion if you want it to be seen to be confusion.” But it is receiving growing domestic flak. “Malaysians have come to accept that their leaders don’t answer questions,” prominent lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan told the New York Times yesterday. “When you are not seriously challenged in any meaningful way, of course you get complacent and comfortable.”

Pre-existing territorial disputes have added to the tension, with key parties in the search operation — including China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia — already embroiled in hotly contested claims over the South China Sea. Moreover, the fact that 154 of the 239 passengers were from either China or Taiwan presents an added urgency for Beijing. An editorial in the Chinese state-run Global Times said of Malaysia’s failure to issue regular and clear details: “Malaysia’s grave inconsistencies on this vital information cannot but be a devastating blow to the outside world’s confidence in its core role in search and rescue.”

For Vietnam, which has no nationals aboard the missing MH370, the question of cooperation with Malaysia appears a sensitive one. When TIME tried to approach a senior Vietnamese official involved in the search to ask about Malaysia’s sharing of information, an English-speaking member of staff stepped in and said, “It’s not a question we will answer.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, however, a junior official from Ho Chi Minh City’s air-traffic-control department dispatched to Phu Quoc to aid the effort later expressed bewilderment at Kuala Lumpur’s methods.

“I asked [Malaysian officials] for information about the flight path two days ago, and the information only arrived this morning,” he said today. “It’s all very slow, and I don’t know why. Six days without finding something is too long. It’s very strange.”

Data automatically downloaded from the engine of MH370 has led U.S. analysts to claim that the plane may have continued flying for four hours after the radar went blank. The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the new finding on Thursday morning, said investigators were exploring the possibility that someone aboard diverted the plane, “with the intention of using it later for another purpose.”

Malaysia’s Hussein dismissed the claims at a press conference this afternoon, saying that the government, as well as Boeing and Rolls-Royce, which designed engines for the Boeing 777 aircraft, believed the Journal’s report was inaccurate. That response is likely to be contested by U.S. analysts, who believe the new findings warrant an expansion of the search operation beyond the South China Sea. The U.S. dispatched a naval vessel to the Indian Ocean under the assumption the plane crashed somewhere there.

In the brain room of the Vietnamese operation, analysts huddle over a laptop, updating on a map the shifting demarcation of the search area. Two enlarged maps hang on the wall behind them, one showing flight paths of various airlines over southwest Vietnam, another marking in white the blocks of sea that were explored today, and in green those that will be explored tomorrow. The pencil lines change regularly, but new information on the plane’s whereabouts is scant.

On the nearby runway sits a small seaplane readied for Friday’s search. Vietnam has sent craft from airports across its southern provinces, while China has assigned 10 satellites to survey the seas and deployed nine ships and four helicopters. “As long as there is a glimmer of hope,” said Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at a press conference on Thursday, “we will not stop searching for the plane.”


No News Here, Folks: China’s Premier Li Conducts Yearly Boring Press Briefing

Kim Kyung-Hoon—Reuters China's Premier Li Keqiang takes questions during a news conference, after the closing ceremony of the Chinese National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing March 13, 2014

At the triumphal end of China’s annual legislative session, the elephant in the room that is Zhou Yongkang remains tightly under wraps

It was the one question the Chinese public (not to mention the Beijing press corps) was awaiting. The scene was the annual press conference with China’s Premier Li Keqiang at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. Actually, the words “press conference” make the session that closes the National People’s Congress sound like a spontaneous event. Rest assured that the Q&A with the Chinese Premier is a meticulously scripted affair.

The journalists chosen to ask questions on the morning of March 13 were contacted beforehand. There’s negotiation — at least from some foreign reporters — about exactly how the queries will be phrased. But there are to be no surprises at the triumphal end of China’s annual legislative session. This pre-screening ensures that the Premier somehow has all the right facts and figures available to respond in great detail. There are even ringers brought in who are instructed to raise their hands with great enthusiasm. As Li slogged through his answers, journalists took bets on how long it would take for the news-making moment to arrive.

Li uttered disquisitions on the mystery surrounding Malaysia Airline Flight 370, which disappeared without a trace on March 8 with 153 Chinese passengers on board (Li: “families and friends [of passengers] are burning with anxiety” and “as long as there is a glimmer of hope,” China will not halt its search for the missing airliner) and the greatest challenge for China last year (Li: “increased downward pressure on China’s economic growth”). He vowed that “we need to loosen the straightjacket on businesses” and mentioned the hot term “rule of law” a couple times. Li acknowledged the severity of China’s air pollution problem, guaranteeing “a war on our own inefficient and unsustainable model of growth and way of life” and noting that the first thing many Chinese do upon waking is to check pollution-index aps on their cellphones.

But the question in question never came. For months now, a dragnet has appeared to tighten around Zhou Yongkang, who oversaw China’s massive surveillance state until his retirement in late 2012. Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li, China has launched an anti-corruption crackdown that has netted hundreds of wayward officials. President Xi has promised to nab both lowly “flies” and high-ranking “tigers.” If Zhou, he of the Mafioso slicked-back hair and steely gaze, is indeed probed, he would be the mightiest tiger to be felled in decades. After all, he was a member of China’s elite ruling circle: the then nine (now seven) men of the party’s Standing Committee who determine the course of the People’s Republic.

Over the past year, a slew of officials high and low who worked under Zhou in three main spheres — the state-owned oil industry, the populous province of Sichuan and the Public Security Ministry — have been detained. His son and top aides have been implicated in nefarious financial dealings. Zhou himself may be under house arrest. All of which led some China-watchers to expect that Premier Li would use a pre-approved question at his press conference to at least indirectly refer to the state’s possible case against Zhou.

Li did not. In an annual press conference remarkably devoid of actual news, the Premier did take on a question about corruption; it was the third one asked of him and was lobbed Li’s way by a reporter from the online arm of People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece. Li’s voice took on a stern tone as he swore “zero tolerance” for corrupt cadres. He vowed that no matter “how senior his position is [corrupt officials] will be severely dealt with and punished to the full extent of the law.” Li promised that “everyone is equal before the law.” But, despite the People’s Daily reporter asking specifically whether there was anything systemic that could be changed, Li declined to tout an easy tool to combat corruption among party ranks: asset disclosure. Granted, releasing such financial information is a rather touchy subject in a political culture where profiting from power is almost expected.

More importantly, no names — certainly not Zhou’s — were named. Two years ago, at the final press conference by outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao, he launched a not-so-oblique attack on Bo Xilai, the former party chief of the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing and an aspirant to the Standing Committee. One day after Wen’s press conference, the Bo purge began. It was a dramatic downfall that involved a poisoned British businessman, a murderous wife and a cache of absconded public funds. Bo’s case turned into China’s biggest political scandal in decades. (Zhou was considered to have been Bo’s political patron.)

As the minutes ticked by in Li’s presser, expectations rose. After all, former Premier Wen had dispatched his tirade aimed at Bo toward the end of his press conference. Before answering his penultimate question, Li noted that it was time for lunch. Journalists must be hungry. A question followed on China’s trading relations with Europe — specifically to do with high-speed rails, nuclear power and solar panels. Then came the last question, the subject of which I’ve frankly forgotten. Suffice it to say it was not about Mr. Zhou. Reporters were dismissed for lunch.

On Weibo, China’s lively although occasionally censored microblogging service, people digested the press conference. One popular strain of commentary wondered why no mention had been made of Zhou. Wrote one Weibo user: “I’m very puzzled, why did the journalists, especially the foreign journalists, not cherish their opportunity to ask questions? Don’t they know Master Kang is the most delicious one?” (Zhou’s name is blocked on Weibo searches so Chinese online use creative nicknames like Master Kang to evade the state censors.) Apparently the Weibo commenters were not aware of the scripted ritual. In fact, in a meeting with a senior Chinese official some weeks back, some of us in the foreign press community had already been warned that a question on Zhou was verboten.

Meanwhile, the day before Li’s press conference began, a bloodied man was found dead in the stairwell of a securities’ firm off Beijing’s Financial Street, one of the Chinese capital’s business areas. Police said the man had ended his own life with a knife. His will was discovered. The dead man, according to Chinese media reports, is related to a former secretary to a senior leader currently under investigation. The Chinese press did not name the disgraced politician but he appears to be none other than Zhou Yongkang.

with reporting by Gu Yongqiang/Beijing

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