TIME Aviation

Former Malaysian Leader Accuses CIA of Cover-Up in Missing Jet

The former Malaysian Prime Minister accused the C.I.A., Boeing and the media of covering up crucial facts about the missing plane

A former Malaysian leader on Sunday accused American intelligence agents of covering up what really happened to the Malaysia Airlines plane missing since March.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad claimed that Flight 370, which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board, claimed that the CIA could have taken control of the Boeing 777, and lamented that the Malaysian government is bearing the brunt of the blame for a mystery that sparked a massive, expensive and as-of-yet unsuccessful international search for the plane.

“What goes up must come down,” Mohamad wrote in a blog post. “Airplanes can go up and stay up for long periods of time. But even they must come down eventually. They can land safely or they may crash. But airplanes don’t just disappear. Certainly not these days with all the powerful communication systems, radio and satellite tracking and filmless cameras which operate almost indefinitely and possess huge storage capacities.”

Mohamad said “the ‘uninterruptible’ autopilot would be activated—either by pilot, by on board sensors, or even remotely by radio or satellite links by government agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency, if terrorists attempt to gain control of the flight deck.”

No evidence has emerged to support his theory, one of many conspiracy theories that have proliferated since the plane disappeared. Authorities believe it crashed in the Indian Ocean and that no one survived.

“Clearly Boeing and certain agencies have the capacity to take over ‘uninterruptible control’ of commercial airliners of which MH370 B777 is one,” Mohamed wrote.

“Someone is hiding something,” he added. “It is not fair that… Malaysia should take the blame. For some reason the media will not print anything that involves Boeing or the CIA.”

TIME Malaysian Airlines Missing Jet

Sabotage Suspected on Missing Jet, as Search Area Expands

Malaysian officials investigating the disappearance of Flight MH370 say evidence from military radar-tracking suggests it was deliberately flown off-course, but investigators appear no closer to locating the plane

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A report indicated Friday that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 might have been deliberately flown off course when it vanished without a trace almost a week ago, as the search radius for the missing jet expanded once again amid conflicting reports and dashed hopes.

Reuters, citing unnamed sources familiar with the investigation into the disappearance, reports that military radar-tracking evidence suggests the Boeing 777 was deliberately flown across the Malay peninsula toward the Andaman Islands, a chain of isles between the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. An unidentified aircraft was apparently spotted following a route between navigational waypoints, indicating the pilot had considerable aviation training. The revelation has renewed questions about whether foul play was involved in the disappearance of a plane that was carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and for which authorities have scoured the ocean for days to no avail.

“What we can say is we are looking at sabotage, with hijack still on the cards,” one source, a senior Malaysian police official, told Reuters.

Malaysian officials said Thursday that two communications systems on board the aircraft—the data reporting system and the transponder transmitting location and altitude—shut down 14 minutes apart. Some analysts claim this points toward a deliberate attempt to conceal the aircraft’s movements. But retired Colonel J. F. Josephs, an aviation accident investigator, said “this seems speculative and somewhat of a reach.

“You could choose to shut down both systems simultaneously, and it could just as well have been caused by an electrical failure,” he told TIME.

The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Kidd is currently cruising toward the Indian Ocean, the opposite direction of the ill-fated flight’s original route. Malaysian authorities have requested the vessel’s help there after it emerged that “pings” may have been picked up from the plane’s service data system up to five hours after its transponder emitted its last signal.

“Certain ships and aircraft stay in the east, and some go to the west,” Cmdr. William Marks of the U.S. 7th Fleet told CNN on Thursday. “We’re moving to the west.”

Marks said moving into the third largest ocean in the world will be like going “from a chess board to a football field.”

“It’s a completely new game,” he said. “Now we have to come up with a new strategy, new tactics.”

Josephs, who took part in locating the Air France flight 447 that crashed into the Atlantic in 2009, called it a “daunting task.”

“Even if you’re in the right grid coordinates, there are so many variables that affect the probability of detection,” he said. “The illumination, the sea stack, weather, salt. You could be able to see for millions of miles at an altitude, but at the surface you’re relying on acoustics equipment and looking through binoculars for hours at the time.”

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew, at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday. The jetliner had just reached cruising altitude of almost 35,000 feet and was located at the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand. No distress call was received. Twelve nations have become involved in a search and rescue operation involving scores of ships and aircraft, scouring an expanding area on both sides of the Malay Peninsula.

While U.S. officials told CNN that the Indian Ocean is a likely crash site, other facts continue to deepen the mystery. An electrical failure of the magnitude Josephs suggested would be a somewhat catastrophic scenario, which would likely also have impacted the pilots navigating capability.

“Some sort of failure that takes out communications would probably also take out navigation since the electronics are based in the same place,” said Bruce Rodger, an aviation consultant at Aero Consulting Experts, a company that provide litigators with expert material. “The pilots would have been inundated with smoke, have their masks on, basically flying blind until the gas runs out.”

However, Rodger added, a fire like that would probably take out other systems too, making it unlikely for the aircraft to stay airborne for as long as five hours. But any drastic deceleration of the aircraft would have set off the emergency beacon, which never occurred.

“It’s unusual that the emergency beacon didn’t go off,” Rodger said. “It could mean that the plane didn’t crash, it didn’t end up in the water or that an explosion completely annihilated the device.”

Both Josephs and Rodger said that with significant knowledge, it would be possible to shut down both the data reporting system and the transponder manually. A person savvy enough to do that would “absolutely” be able to fly to another location without being detected as well.

“It’s all very odd, but I’m not here to speculate,” Rodger said. “The aircraft will turn up eventually. Give it less than a week, and then we’ll be on our way to getting the answers.”

TIME Malaysia Airlines

Malaysian Official Denies Report That Missing Jet Flew for Hours

Malaysian Air Forces search the water for signs of debris from the Malaysian airliner during a search and rescue mission flight on March 13, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Rahman Roslan—Getty Images

Malaysia's defense minister denies U.S. investigators' claims that missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 flew for hours after it left radar screens

Updated: 7:17 a.m. EST on Thursday

Malaysia’s defense minister denied reports Thursday that the Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 may have stayed airborne for as much as four hours after it was lost from radar screens, the Associated Press reports.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Thursday that U.S. investigators and national-security officials believe that data automatically downloaded and sent to a maintenance-and-monitoring program from the aircraft’s two Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engines indicated that the plane may have remained in the air for much longer than previously believed.

That would mean the plane may have traveled more than 2,000 additional nautical miles, reaching points as far as the Pakistani border or even the Arabian Sea, said the Journal.

Acting Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that Rolls-Royce and Boeing, the maker of the Boeing 777, had denied the report, according to the AP.

Erin Atan, Rolls-Royce head of Asia-Pacific and Middle East communications, was unable to confirm or deny the Wall Street Journal reporter earlier when contacted by TIME, citing the terms of sharing information relating to an official accident investigation.

“We are monitoring the situation, and we have offered Malaysia Airlines and related parties all cooperation from the outset,” she said, naturally raising questions as to why this information, if accurate, was not shared with passengers’ families earlier.

On Wednesday, U.S. officials told AFP that American spy satellites detected no sign of a mid-air explosion when the jet vanished. Heat signatures from exploding aircraft have been used as a clue in previous incidents but none was spotted in this case, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Wall Street Journal report appeared to widen rather than shrink the search for Flight 370, which has entered its sixth day. Debris spotted in the South China Sea by Chinese satellites on Sunday — but only released overnight — has since been dismissed by Vietnamese officials who claim the area had already been “searched thoroughly.”

India has also now agreed to help out with efforts. “Malaysia and India are in contact on this since yesterday and contact points are being discussed. These contact points will ascertain what assistance is required and what India can offer,” a spokesman at New Delhi’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

India boasts a large military command in its territory in the Andaman and Nicobar islands and operates navy patrols in the busy shipping routes of the Malacca Strait.

Flight 370 took off from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. on Saturday, heading for Beijing, with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board. Contact with Malaysian air-traffic control was lost after some 40 minutes over the Gulf of Thailand, at a height of around 10,700 m.

Vietnamese air-traffic control says the plane never entered its airspace, and conflicting reports have emerged that it may have turned back and been spotted by military radar on the northeastern side of the Malay Peninsula by Pulau Perak. No distress call was received.

A dozen countries are taking part in the search, with 42 ships and 39 aircraft involved. But efforts have been plagued with confusion and contradictory reports, and complaints increasingly hurled at the Malaysian authorities.

At his end of Congress press conference on Thursday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang revealed that the superpower had eight boats and 10 satellites trying to locate the plane. “As long as there is a glimmer of hope, we will not stop searching for the plane,” he told reporters gathered at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. Of the 239 people on board, 153 were Chinese.

TIME Aviation

Officials ‘Clueless’ On Missing Jet As Terror Suspicion Fades

The mystery involving Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 deepens as officials widen the massive search and signal that fears of terrorism were likely off-mark

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As the sun set here on the fourth day since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished, the case of the ill-fated jetliner was as muddied as Kuala Lumpur’s skies, steeped in a dense haze that seasonally blankets the Malaysian capital.

“We’ve made no progress, we don’t have a clue,” Izhar Bahari, air traffic controller at Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation, tells TIME. He went on to deny an earlier report that the search has now shifted focus to the Strait of Malacca. “We focus our search both on the east and the west coast, and we will expand the areas for tomorrow.”

Authorities said Tuesday that despite suspicions raised by the fact that two of the passengers held stolen passports, one was a 19-year-old Iranian asylum seeker with no terrorist ties. The revelation seemed to deflate fears that the disappearance was an act of terrorism.

“The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it is not a terrorist incident,” Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said, according to Reuters.

Scouring a radius of over 100 nautical miles, dozens of aircrafts and ships from 10 countries explored both the area where communications were lost with the Boeing 777, between Malaysia and Vietnam, and a swath to the southwest. Based on radar information suggesting that the Beijing-bound aircraft may have attempted to turn back to Kuala Lumpur, the search was increasingly focused off the coast of Malaysia.

Officials have pleaded to media and the public to refrain from spreading unverified information. But with 239 lives presumed lost, rumors abound. In lieu of hard evidence, journalists had latched on to the fact that two passengers traveled on stolen passports, but that lead seemed to lose weight on Tuesday, as one of the two men’s identities was revealed.

Traveling on an Austrian passport, Iranian Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 19, is not suspected of having any links to terrorist organizations. “We’ve been in contact with his mother, who was expecting him in Frankfurt,” said Malaysian Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar. She knew he was using a false passport.”

Traveling with stolen documents is a fairly common phenomenon that is rarely detected. According to data collected by the Wall Street Journal, passengers boarded flights without having their passports checked against Interpol’s database of stolen documents 1 billion times last year. Meanwhile, 40 million passports are reported missing.

Increasingly, more than 90 hours since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing, the investigation is characterized by erroneous clues discounted than hard evidence established. An object spotted in the Gulf of Thailand, which Vietnamese officials initially thought could have been a life-raft, turned out to be the lid of a large box.

A 15 km oil slick in Malaysian waters was found following following laboratory tests not to contain any aviation fuel. And supposed tail debris seen floating in the water was actually “logs tied together,” reports Malaysian officials.

The lack of a distress call remains puzzling for investigators. At cruising altitude in good weather, even total loss of power would allow pilots enough time to register an emergency.

Commercial airliners also have transponders that automatically report their location, altitude, speed and other data by radio. But where the Malaysian plane was flying was thought to be patchy, and the signals are picked up only once a minute and only at a plane’s cruising height above 29,000 feet.

In addition, Malaysian Airlines has confirmed the plane also had a system called the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, which automatically alerts technical staff of any mechanical failure. The system was deemed vital for finding the downed Air France Flight 447 that disappeared over the Atlantic in 2009.

The last two readings from the devices on MH370 were recorded some 40 minutes after takeoff, and they did not include altitude, Mikael Robertsson of Flightradar24, tells the New York Times.

Police still haven’t ruled out foul play as the reason for the incident. Abu Bakar said that they are looking into four areas: hijacking, sabotage, psychological and personal problems of passengers and crew. “We’re going through the profiles of all passengers, and have communicated with counterparts in at least 14 countries,” he said.

The Chinese delegation in Malaysia has also supplied the police team with photos of all 153 Chinese passengers on board. “We’re looking at all video footage from March 7 and 8,” Abu Bakar added.

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