SEPANG: Rolls Royce, the engine manufacturer of the ill-fated MH370, has denied reports that the jetliner was sending engine data for some five hours after it lost contact with the main control tower last Saturday morning.
In making this public, Defence-cum-Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Malaysian authorities have checked with Rolls Royce, and the engine maker of the Boeing 777-200ER jet has categorically denied the reports which had quoted unnamed sources.
Over the last two days, unnamed US officials have repeatedly said that engine data from MH370 was beamed back to Rolls Royce after 1.30am on Saturday when the plane carrying 239 passengers and crew went missing on its flight from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing, China.
While the plane was last spotted over the South China Sea, Malaysian military radar picked up a civilian aircraft and hour after its disappearance some 200km north of Penang, heading towards the Andaman Sea.
Some 57 ships and 48 aircraft from 13 nations are now looking for the jetliner not only at the South China Sea but also the Straits of Malacca, the Andaman Sea and the Indian Ocean.
The scope of the search was widened as Malaysian authorities did not want to leave any stones unturned in its search for MH370.
“Yesterday, we rejected a media report in which unnamed officials said that engine data showed the plane had kept flying for hours after last contact. We checked with Boeing and Rolls Royce, who said the reports were not true.
“Today Rolls Royce released a statement saying, and I quote: Rolls Royce continues to provide its full support to the authorities and Malaysia Airlines. Rolls Royce concurs with the statement made on Thursday, March 13, by Malaysia’s Transport Minister regarding engine health monitoring data received from the aircraft’.
“There has been a lot of media speculation today after comments from unnamed US officials suggested the plane may have travelled for some time after losing contact.
“As is standard procedure, the investigation team will not publicly release information until it has been properly verified and corroborated with the relevant authorities. Nor do we want to be drawn into specific remarks that unnamed officials have reportedly made to the media,” Hishammuddin said in his daily press conference at the Sama-Sama hotel here today.
He said the international search and rescue teams are currently working on verifying that detailed information, “but we have nothing to confirm at the moment”.
He said while the aircraft is still missing, the authorities are expanding the search area.
“Two days ago, the search area was widened to include the Andaman Sea. Together with our international partners, we are now pushing further east into the South China Sea, and further into the Indian Ocean.
“We want nothing more than to find the plane as quickly as possible. But the circumstances have forced us to widen our search. A normal investigation becomes narrower with time, as new information focuses the search. But this is not a normal investigation. In this case, the information we have forces us to look further and further afield,” said the minister.
He said the investigation team was following all leads that could help locate the missing aircraft and when new information is received, it must be verified.
“We have daily technical meetings with all the key players. We have followed the protocols set out by the International Civil Aviation Authority. We have been in regular contact with our neighbouring countries. And we have welcomed all international offers of assistance. We are committed to one aim: finding MH370,” he stressed.
On the plane’s turn back, he said though the military radar spotted a civilian aircraft an hour after it lost communication with the air traffic control, it has yet to be confirmed that the spotted aircraft was indeed MH370.
“This is why we expanded the search. We are also getting satellite material from others. We are still investigating. A team from Boeing and Rolls Royce are also studying the satellite information. So far we can’t reveal anything until we confirm,” he added.
Asked on who should spearhead the whole operation, Hishammuddin said Malaysia as the state of register of the aircraft is required to undertake the task.
Under the International Civil Aviation Organisation protocol, the state of register of the aircraft must undertake the task of locating the missing plane.
The minister also did not rule out hijacking as “all possibilities are being looked at.”
“The focus now is finding the aircraft. We also did not receive any satellite data from the plane and we are trying to get whatever satellite data provided by the US.
“We normally do not share satellite information but in this case we have made it an exception and hope we can come to a conclusion on the location of the aircraft,” he added.
The minister also reiterated that investigators are unsure if the plane’s transponders were turned off intentionally, turned off under duress or failed as result of an explosion.