Malaysia on Thursday denied a media report that its missing airliner flew on for hours after last making contact, and said Chinese photos that raised hopes of a search breakthrough actually showed no wreckage.
“Those reports are inaccurate,” Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said of a Wall Street Journal report that said US investigators suspected the plane had flown on.
The report said data automatically sent to the ground from the aircraft’s Rolls-Royce engines suggested the Boeing 777 was in the air for four hours after its last contact with air traffic control at 1.30am Malaysian time.
“The last transmission from the aircraft was at 0107 hours which indicated that everything was normal,” Hishammuddin said.
The Malaysia Airlines (MAS) jet was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on an overnight flight when it disappeared.
“Rolls-Royce and Boeing teams are here in Kuala Lumpur and have worked with MAS and investigation teams since Sunday. These issues have never been raised.”
He also said China had told Malaysia that satellite photos released on the website of a Chinese state oceanic agency, apparently showing three large objects in a suspected crash site, were released “by mistake and did not show any debris.”
A huge search effort has failed to find any evidence of the plane’s fate despite scouring land and sea for six days.
It has been repeatedly dogged by false leads and conflicting information, drawing mounting accusations that Malaysia is bungling the response.
The effort involves dozens of vessels and aircraft from countries around Asia, plus the United States.
The Chinese agency’s images had prompted Malaysia and Vietnam to dispatch planes to the area in question in the South China Sea to hunt for the suspect objects.
“The publication of the images on the website is an accident,” Hishammuddin said, relating a statement he said he had received from China’s ambassador to Malaysia.
He said the Chinese government did not endorse the action and was investigating.