A Chinese satellite looking into the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 "observed a suspected crash area at sea," a Chinese government agency said -- a potentially pivotal lead into what has been a frustrating search for the aircraft.
China's State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense announced the discovery, including images of what it said were "three suspected floating objects and their sizes." The objects aren't small: 13 by 18 meters (43 by 59 feet), 14 by 19 meters (46 by 62 feet) and 24 by 22 meters (79 feet by 72 feet). For reference, the wingspan of an intact Boeing 777-200ER like the one that disappeared is about 61 meters (200 feet) and its overall length is about 64 meters (210 feet). The images were captured on March 9 -- which was the day after the plane went missing -- but weren't released until Wednesday.
The Chinese agency gave coordinates of 105.63 east longitude, 6.7 north latitude, which would put it in waters northeast of where it took off in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and south of Vietnam, near where the South China Sea meets the Gulf of Thailand. "It's where it's supposed to be," Peter Goelz, a former National Transportation Safety Board managing director, told CNN's Jake Tapper, noting the "great skepticism" about reports the plane had turned around to go back over Malaysia. "I think they've got to get vessels and aircraft there as quickly as humanly possible."
Malaysia Airlines' missing jet transmitted its location repeatedly to satellites over the course of five hours after it disappeared from radar, people briefed on the matter said, as searchers zeroed in on new target areas hundreds of miles west of the plane's original course.
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.
The people, who included a military official, the industry official and others, declined to say what specific path the transmissions revealed. But the U.S. planned to move surveillance planes into an area of the Indian Ocean 1,000 miles or more west of the Malay peninsula where the plane took off, said Cmdr. William Marks, the spokesman for the U.S. Seventh Fleet.
He said the destroyer USS Kidd would move through the Strait of Malacca, on Malaysia's west coast, and stay at its northwest entrance. Malaysia, which is overseeing the search effort, directed Indian forces to a specific set of coordinates in the Andaman Sea, northwest of the Malay peninsula, an Indian official said Thursday. "There was no specified rationale behind looking in those areas, but a detailed list was provided late Wednesday evening," the Indian official said.
The automatic pings, or attempts to link up with satellites operated by Inmarsat PLC, occurred a number of times after Flight 370's last verified position, the people briefed on the situation said, indicating that at least through those five hours, the Boeing 777 carrying 239 people remained intact and hadn't been destroyed in a crash, act of sabotage or explosion. Malaysia Airlines said it hadn't received any such data. According to Boeing, the plane's manufacturer, the airline didn't purchase a package through Boeing to monitor its airplanes' data through the satellite system.
As speculation intensified Friday that the plane might have been hijacked by a person or people with aviation skills, a picture began to emerge of the two men whose actions will be a focus of the investigation. Police have said they are looking at the psychological background of the pilots, their family life and connections as one line of inquiry into flight MH370's disappearance, but there is no evidence linking them to any wrongdoing.
CBS News' Bob Orr reported Thursday that two communication systems on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 were shut down separately in the moments before the flight disappeared from radar on Saturday; a data system and two transponders which relayed information about the jet's speed, altitude and location.
While a cascading electrical problem could feasibly cause that kind of staged electrical failure, Orr said it's also entirely possible somebody on the plane intentionally turned off the systems. Sources told the Reuters news agency on Friday, meanwhile, that the path Flight 370 appears to have taken after diverting from its intended route strongly suggests that a trained pilot was still in control of the aircraft.
The precise location of the flight at 8:11 AM is still a mystery. But officials provided a map (above) that shows the plane's possible location along one of two red semi-circles, based on a "ping" from a satellite orbiting 35,800 kilometers above Indian Ocean. As you can see, this final data point indicates two possible flight paths: one northwest stretching toward Kazakhstan and another southwest into the Indian Ocean.
These are the last known images of two pilots who boarded a passenger jet in Malaysia more than a week ago, and then seemingly vanished into thin air. The two men have come under increased scrutiny, after Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed on the weekend that the Boeing 777’s tracking systems were deliberately disabled by "someone on the plane".
It has been claimed that Captain Shah was a political activist who attended the trial of Malaysia’s opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, just seven hours before he took control of the passenger jet with 239 passengers on board. Ibrahim, who had campaigned on a platform of social justice and anti-corruption, was jailed for five years for sodomy in the trial, after his acquittal for the same charge was overturned. The Daily Mail quoted an unnamed police source as saying that Captain Shah was a vocal political activist and it was feared that the court decision left him profoundly upset.
Captain Shah, a father of three and a grandfather, joined Malaysian Airlines in 1981 and was certified by Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation as a simulator test examiner. He had 18,365 flying hours experience, and had installed a Boeing 777 flight simulator in his home, from which he made YouTube videos. Police have also removed laptops from his home. An image has emerged of Captain Shah wearing a T-shirt with a ‘‘Democracy is Dead’’ slogan, while an unverified report in The Daily Mail suggested his wife and children may have moved out of the family home the day before the plane went missing. Last year, Captain Shah became a member of the opposition People’s Justice Party and volunteered in its election campaign but didn’t hold any leadership roles, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Malaysia Airlines CEO couldn't confirm or deny reports Tuesday claiming the flight computer on the missing Boeing 777 was manually reprogrammed to divert the jet from its intended destination of Beijing and to instead turn abruptly west, just before it disappeared from civilian radar.
According to The New York Times, which cited two anonymous U.S. officials for the information, that first turn was not made by someone manually overriding Flight 370's flight computer by grabbing the controls, but rather by someone with sufficient knowledge of the aircraft to change the destination in that computer.
The process to change the Boeing 777's destination, according to The Times, only involves "seven or eight keystrokes," but implies that someone with a working knowledge of the aircraft was in the cockpit to make the change, either just before or after take-off.
Asked Tuesday in Kuala Lumpur whether the flight computer was re-programmed, Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said, as far as the investigation was concerned, Flight 370 was programmed to land in Beijing. Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya told CBS News correspondent Seth Doane, however, that the pilots or anyone else in the cockpit with the knowledge could feasibly have changed the programmed destination in the flight computer.