No signs of the missing Malaysian jetliner have been found at a location where Chinese satellite images showed what was thought to be plane debris, Malaysia’s civil aviation chief said Thursday.
Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said planes searched the location Thursday. “There is nothing. We went there, there is nothing,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported late Wednesday a government website has satellite images of suspected debris from the Malaysia Airlines plane that vanished with 239 people aboard just hours after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday.
The satellite images from the morning of March 9 appear to show “three suspected floating objects” of varying sizes in the sea off the southern tip of Vietnam and east of Malaysia – a part of the original search area for the aircraft, which was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Pham Quy Tieu, Vietnam’s deputy transport minister, told The Associated Press that the area had been “searched thoroughly” by forces from other countries over the past few days. Doan Huu Gia, chief of air search and rescue coordination center, said Malaysian and Singaporean aircraft visited area again Thursday.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported early Thursday that U.S. aviation investigators and national security officials believe the plane flew for about four hours past the time it reached its last confirmed location, according to data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the Boeing 777′s engines as part of a routine maintenance and monitoring program.
U.S. counterterrorism officials are exploring the possibility that a pilot or someone else on board the plane may have diverted it toward an undisclosed location after turning off the plane’s transponders to avoid radar detection, a person tracking the investigation told The Journal.
Vernon Grose, a seasoned National Transportation Safety Board investigator and consultant, told Fox News his preliminary assessment was that if the plane disintegrated, he would expect to find large pieces of wreckage, including the wings, the horizontal stabilizer in the tail and the vertical fin.
When the wreckage is located, Grose said the black boxes should be located in fairly short order.
Two-thirds of the passengers on the flight were Chinese, and the Chinese government has put increasing pressure on Malaysian officials to solve the mystery of the plane’s disappearance.
The latest report came as Malaysia’s civil aviation officials said Wednesday in Beijing that the final voice communication heard from the missing Malaysian Airlines jet to air traffic controllers was, “All right, good night,” The Straits Times reported.
The message was reportedly sent from the cockpit to the controllers in response to being informed that the plane was entering Vietnamese airspace.
Amid intensifying confusion and occasionally contradictory statements, the country’s civil aviation authorities and the military both said the plane may have turned back from its original route toward Vietnam, possibly as far as the Strait of Malacca on the eastern side of the country.
Authorities have not ruled out any possible cause for the plane’s disappearance, including mechanical failure, pilot error, sabotage or terrorism in the disappearance of the plane. The 777 is a modern aircraft with an excellent safety record, as does Malaysia Airlines.
In June 2013, Boeing issued a safety alert to Boeing 777 operators, telling them to inspect for corrosion and cracks in the crown fuselage around a satellite antenna. The alert says one airline found a 16-inch crack in one plane, then checked other 777s and found more cracking.
“Cracks in the fuselage skin that are not found and repaired can propagate to the point where the fuselage skin structure cannot sustain limit load,” Boeing said. “When the fuselage skin cannot sustain limit load, this can result in possible rapid decompression and loss of structural integrity.”
Fox News’ Catherine Herridge and The Associated Press contributed to this report