KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein refuted reports that Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 flew a few hours after its last reported position and said satellite photos from China were released by mistake and showed no wreckage.
“Those reports are inaccurate,” he said at a press conference on Thursday, referring to a Wall Street Journal report that claimed US investigators suspected the plane had flown on for four hours after its last contact with air traffic control at 1.30am local time.
The newspaper said US aviation investigators and national security officials believed the plane flew for a total of five hours, based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the Boeing 777's engines as part of a standard monitoring programme.
It could mean that the flight, which had 239 people on board, travelled for hundreds of miles after its last contact with air traffic control at around 1.30am on Saturday, about an hour after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing.
It raises the possibility that the plane could have potentially reached Pakistan, destinations in the Indian Ocean or Mongolia, the newspaper said.
Mr Hishammuddin also said the publication of satellite image of objects suspected to be plane debris was an “accident”. He said China had told Malaysia the satellite photos were released “by mistake and did not show any debris".
“The Chinese government neither authorised nor endorsed (putting it on a website),” he said. “The image is not confirmed to be connected to the plane.”
China said late Wednesday that its satellites have detected three large floating objects near where the Malaysian jet lost contact, the latest twist in a hunt which entered its sixth day on Thursday.
China’s state Science and Technology Administration said that a Chinese satellite had seen the objects in a “suspected crash sea area” in the South China Sea on March 9, and that the images were being analysed.
Mr Hishamuddin also refuted reports that Malaysian police searched homes of the flight's pilot and co-pilot.
Some online portals and local newspapers had reported that police are focusing their investigation on one of MH370 crew members and a 35-year-old Chinese national of Uighur descent.
Mr Hishamuddin stressed that Malaysia's focus is on finding the aircraft.
"Malaysia has nothing to hide, and spared no expense or effort in finding the aircraft," he said. "There is no real precedent for a case like this. The plane vanished," he added.
MAS chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said that the last engine data was transmitted at 1.07am last Saturday, and not beyond that. The last data transmission showed everything was normal.
Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared at 1.30am last Saturday, sparking a massive search that has yet to turn up anything.
A total of 43 ships and 40 aircraft from 12 countries are involved in the search which covers nearly 27,000 sq nautical miles, or about two-thirds the size of Peninsular Malaysia.
The size of the search area in the Strait of Malacca is 12,425 sq nautical miles and the area being scoured in the South China Sea is 14,440 sq nautical miles.
The fruitless search so far, plus conflicting information given by different officials, have earned Malaysia harsh criticism from both the distraught families of the missing people, as well as international media. Some say Malaysian and MAS officials have not been transparent.