March 24, 2014 7:10 am
Updated: March 24, 2014 7:21 am

Flight MH370: frequently asked questions, few answers

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WATCH ABOVE: Military search planes flew over a remote part of the Indian Ocean on Thursday hunting for debris in “probably the best lead” so far in finding the missing Malaysia Airlines flight.

TORONTO –  The unprecedented hunt for a missing Malaysia Airlines jet is continuing 17 days after it vanished.

READ MORE:  Australia spots possible debris, poor visibility limits search

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Many questions surround the mysterious disappearance of the jet. Below, we take a look at some frequently asked questions.

Is it true that objects believed to be part of the plane were spotted in the Indian Ocean?

The search was given added momentum when a French satellite detected potential debris on Sunday, after Australia and China earlier released satellite images identifying suspect objects.

An Australian P3 Orion aircraft has located two objects in the search zone some 2,500 kilometres (1,550 miles) southwest of Australia – the first grey or green and circular, the second orange and rectangular. An Australian navy supply ship, the HMAS Success, could reach the objects within several hours or by Tuesday morning, Malaysia’s Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.

READ MORE: Australian, Chinese planes spot objects in Indian Ocean

A Chinese plane crew, meanwhile, spotted two large objects and several smaller ones spread across several square kilometres (miles), Xinhua News Agency reported. At least one of the items – a white, square-shaped object – was captured on a camera aboard the plane. A Chinese icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, was headed toward the area and would arrive Tuesday morning.

What search equipment is being used?

Australia, China, the U.S., Japan and New Zealand have all contributed planes or ships to the search effort in the southern Indian Ocean. At least 14 planes and nine ships are involved or headed toward the search zone.

What was the last known communication? 

The Boeing 777’s Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, last transmitted at 1:07 a.m., about 30 minutes after takeoff. ACARS sends information about the jet’s engines and other data to the airline.

The final, reassuring words from the cockpit – “All right, good night” – were believed to have been spoken by co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, according to Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya.

VIDEO: Families and friends of missing Malaysia airlines passengers distraught over new findings

After its communications ceased, the plane turned west and crossed the Malay Peninsula. Military radar detected it moving along a known flight route until it was several hundred miles (kilometres) offshore.

Even disabled, ACARS emits hourly pulses that are recorded by a satellite, and Flight 370’s last “ping” was sent at 8:11 a.m. The location of the plane could only be determined in a broad arc from the satellite, which places the jet as far north as Kazakhstan in Central Asia or far into the southern Indian Ocean. The plane would have been near the limit of its on-board fuel supply.

Was the jet’s disappearance deliberate?

For now, Malaysian authorities believe someone on board the flight intentionally switched off two vital pieces of communication equipment and deliberately diverted the aircraft. That could only have been done by the pilots – either willingly or forced – or someone on board with considerable flying experience.

READ MORE: Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 deliberately flown off course

The investigation is focusing on the plane being deliberately diverted by the pilots or someone on board with considerable flying experience.

Malaysian police are investigating the two pilots and ground engineers, and analyzing a flight simulator seized from the pilot’s home.

Investigators are also checking backgrounds, including those of ground crew who could have come into contact with the plane, to see if links to terrorists, personal problems or psychological issues could be factors.

Who are the pilots of the missing plane?

There are suspicions that one or both pilots of the missing Malaysian Airlines jetliner were involved in the disappearance of the flight on March 8th.

VIDEO: Missing Malaysia airplane investigation focuses on the pilots

The pilots of the missing passenger jet were a middle-aged family man passionate enough about flying to build his own simulator and a 27-year-old contemplating marriage who had just graduated to the cockpit of the Boeing 777.

Online, Malaysians have rushed to defend the reputations of the pilots, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and Fariq Abdul Hamid. Read more about the pilots here.

Why did the pilot delete files from his home flight simulator?

Officials aren’t sure.

The Malaysian government is seeking help from the FBI after some flight data was reportedly deleted from the home flight simulator of one of the pilots.

The two have joined forces to analyze the deleted electronic data.

Malaysia’s defence minister said investigators are trying to restore files deleted Feb. 3 from the simulator used by the pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah and that the pilot is innocent until proven guilty.

Deleting files would not necessarily represent anything unusual, especially if it were to free up memory space, but investigators would want to check the files for any signs of unusual flight paths that could help explain where the missing plane went.

What is a transponder and what happened to it?

A transponder is a radio transmitter that enables the plane to be identified by commercial radar.

If the plane had disintegrated during flight or had suffered some other catastrophic failure, all signals – the pings to the satellite, the data messages and the transponder – would be expected to stop at the same time.

READ MORE: Flight MH370: Why do airplane transponders have an ‘off switch?’

Experts said a pilot or passengers with technical expertise may have switched off the transponder in the hope of flying undetected.

The transponder shut down about 1:20 a.m., and an ACARS update that was due at 1:37 a.m. was never sent.

Was there a distress signal?

No.

Flight MH370 disappeared from civilian radar screens at 1:30 a.m. Saturday at an altitude of about 35,000 feet above the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and southern Vietnam.

It sent no distress signals or any indication it was experiencing problems.

What about the satellite images published on a Chinese government website reportedly showed three suspected floating objects? 

Planes sent Thursday to search the area where Chinese satellite images showed possible debris from the missing Malaysian jetliner found nothing, Malaysia’s civil aviation chief said, deflating the latest lead in the search for Flight MH 370.

Malaysian officials declined to discuss when – or even whether – they had information about signals to satellites, and that they would release details only when verified.

What other clues and sightings of objects believed to be related to the plane were found?

Besides the Chinese satellite photos and the so-far fruitless search based on the possible sighting on military radar, there have been other developments in the aviation mystery that have failed to lead to finding the plane or the cause of its disappearance:

  • Oil slicks seen Saturday were found to have nothing to do with the jetliner
  • A yellow object spotted by a search plane turned out to be ordinary sea trash

Officials initially said four or five passengers checked in for the flight but did not board, fueling speculation about terrorism. Officials later said some people with reservations never checked in and were simply replaced by standby passengers, and no baggage was removed.

Have planes simply ‘vanished’ before?

Yes.

Flight MH370 is not the first plane to fly off the radar.

While on a flight from the Azores to Bermuda, on Jan. 20, 1948, a four-engine aircraft disappeared without a trace. All 31 passengers and crew, including British war hero Sir Arthur Coningham, were never found and presumed to be dead.

READ MORE: Without a trace – Mysterious aviation disappearances

And on March 16, 1962, a military Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation prop plane took off from Guam en route to the Philippines. The plane disappeared over the western Pacific Ocean. No distress call was ever issued. The wreckage was never recovered.

All 107 aboard were declared missing and presumed dead.

I’ve heard so many theories, are any of them true?

A U.S. official told The Associated Press that a deliberate takeover of the plane is no longer a theory and said that investigators are ruling out mechanical failure or pilot error in the disappearance.

READ MORE: Missing jet theories range from possible to surreal

Did an oil rig worker see the plane go down?

An oil rig worker claimed he saw the jet crash while working off the south coast of Vietnam, according to a report.

READ MORE: Oil rig worker saw Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 go down

“I believe I saw the Malaysia Airlines plane come down. The timing is right,” the man said an email. “I tried to contact the Malaysian and Vietnam officials several days ago. But I don’t know if the message has been received.”

How can the public help in finding the plane?

More than two million people joined a virtual search party after a U.S. satellite imagery company asked the public to search for clues.

DigitalGlobe, based in Longmont, Colo., has provided high-resolution images that were taken nearly 640 km (or 400 miles) above Earth.

READ MORE: Crowdsourcing volunteers sift through data in hunt for missing Malaysia flight

Last week, the group asked for volunteers to look through the images, which have been made available on Tomnod, a website that encourages the public to sift through satellite images in order “to explore the Earth and solve real-world problems.”

On Monday, Tomnod announced on Twitter that it has uploaded new high-resolution satellite images of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as well as parts of the Indian Ocean.

DigitalGlobe said experts are sifting through 645,000 features tagged so far.  While hundreds of tags include oil slicks, boats and vessels, expert analysts are still working toward identifying the top 10 most notable areas and share the information with customers and authorities.

© 2014 Shaw Media

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