03/14/2014, 00.00
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Missing plane flew (maybe) for several hours, search widened to Indian Ocean

U.S. government experts continue search operations for flight MH370 west of the Malaysian peninsula. Case of”air piracy”not ruled out. Two of aircrafts’ communications systems turned off at different times: the engines continued to transmit signals for another five hours. Chinese experts: mild earthquake in the South China Sea compatible with the crash.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Experts in Washington, called upon to investigate the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, are "shifting their focus" towards "the Indian Ocean region".  A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the widening of the search operations is not due to any new information on the fate of the aircraft. The White House spokesman Jay Carney said that "because of new information, we may be part of an effort to open a new search area", so far concentrated in the South China Sea that separates Malaysia from Vietnam. In the absence of any confirmation of a pilot error, or midflight explosion, or structural failure, counter-terrorism experts are not ruling out that it may be a case of "air piracy".

The flight disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board, mostly Chinese. So far the massive search operation including dozens of ships, helicopters and fighter jets from at least eight different nations has failed to find anything. The White House explained that based on "new information", the United States has decided to extend the research to the Indian Ocean, west of the Malaysian peninsula. At the same time, U.S. government officials told the BBC the intelligence was "not concrete enough to merit a rise in expectations".

India has also joined the search operations, with navy vessels and air force jets at the request of the government in Kuala Lumpur. Meanwhile, some elements that have just emerged - which have not yet been confirmed by Malaysia - seem to refute the hypothesis of a sudden incident. According to reports from the Wall Street Journal, the plane's engines continued to transmit signals for another 4 or 5 hours after the disappearance of the flight from radar. If confirmed, the news would indicate that the MH370 continued to fly and probably precipitated at a later time in the Indian Ocean and in an unknown location.

There was enough fuel on board to travel for at least another four hours. Investigation sources add  that it could have traveled up to 1600 km away from the point last visible on radar. Meanwhile, two U.S. officials have told broadcaster ABC that two different communication systems, which are present on the plane, were turned off at different times, corroborating the thesis of a voluntary gesture. The data transmission system stopped working 1.07 am, while the transponder - useful to detect the location and altitude of the aircraft - was turned off fifteen minutes later, around 1.21.

The already intricate plot is further thickened by the news just announced by a team of seismologists from a prestigious university in China, that they recorded a "mild seismic event" in the seas that separate Malaysia and Vietnam on March 8. This phenomenon, experts warn, could be compatible with a plane crash at sea and, therefore, be linked to the mysterious disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight. The tremor occurred at 2:55 am, about 150 km from the southern tip of Vietnam.  "It's not an earthquake zone - say academics - and looking at the time and place, may be linked to the disappearance of flight MH370".

The Boeing 777-200 carried 239 people, including a crew of 12, disappearing over the sea, just south of Vietnam.  The passenger list included 153 Chinese, 38 Malaysians, 12 Indonesians, as well as some Australians, Europeans and Americans. Malaysia Airlines has had a good safety record, with nearly four decades without an accident. Its worst accident occurred in 1977 when one accident left 100 people dead. In recent years, the company lost revenues due to the competition from low-cost airlines, including Air Asia, another Malaysia-based company.  Every day, Malaysia's national carrier flies nearly 37,000 passengers to some 80 destinations worldwide.


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