The Boeing 777 that disappeared after taking off from Kuala Lumpur had two Rolls Royce engines. When in operation, the engines automatically transmitted data to Rolls Royce, on the ground, at 30 minute intervals. This fact has been known for a while, but Rolls has been quiet about what the transmissions showed–or, more important, when they ended. It has now been revealed by American investigators that, according to Rolls Royce, the engines’ transmissions continued for four hours after the airplane disappeared. The pilot(s) or hijackers could have, and apparently did, turn off the plane’s transponder, but they couldn’t turn off, and likely didn’t even know about, the automatic transmission of data from the engines to Rolls Royce.
In four hours, depending on air speed, the plane could have flown just about anywhere–even, potentially, to Pakistan. While the mystery remains impenetrable for the time being, it is no longer a safe assumption that the airplane crashed at all. No one, presumably, would hijack or divert an airplane, fly it for four hours undetected, only to ultimately crash it into the sea. Not on purpose, anyway.
UPDATE: Malaysian officials deny this morning’s report:
Malaysian Defense Minister and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the government had contacted Boeing and Rolls Royce, the engine manufacturer, and both said the last engine data was received at 1:07 a.m., several minutes before the plane lost contact over the South China Sea on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
So are the American investigators who talked to the Wall Street Journal making it up? That seems highly unlikely. Rolls knows, but, consistent with international airline incident protocol, they aren’t talking.
FURTHER UPDATE: I will be on Jim Vicevich’s excellent WTIC radio show out of Hartford, Connecticut, at 10:35 Eastern time to discuss the latest on Flight 370. You can listen online, here.
MORE: Notwithstanding the denials by Malaysian officials, American assets are being deployed far out into the Indian Ocean to search for the airplane.
ONE MORE: American officials are now saying that the claim that the airplane continued flying for four hours is true, but it is based on satellite “pings” rather than Rolls Royce data. I have no idea whether this revision is correct or not–it could be misdirection, intended for the presumed hijackers–but there is no doubt that American officials believe the airplane continued to operate for hours after its transponder stopped transmitting. Hence the search now going on far to the West of the airplane’s intended route.