By Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON, March 14 Analysis of electronic
pulses picked up from a missing Malaysian airliner shows it
could have run out of fuel and crashed into the Indian Ocean
after it flew hundreds of miles off course, a source familiar
with official U.S. assessments said on Friday.
The source, who is familiar with data the U.S. government is
receiving from the investigation into the disappearance of the
Malaysia Airlines plane, said the other, less likely
possibility was that it flew on towards India.
The data obtained from pulses the plane sent to satellites
had been interpreted to provide two different analyses because
it was ambiguous, said the source, who declined to be identified
because the investigation was continuing.
But it offers the first real clues as to the fate of Flight
MH370, which officials increasingly believe was deliberately
diverted off its scheduled course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The Boeing 777-200ER was carrying 239 people.
Two sources familiar with the probe earlier said Malaysian
military radar data showed a plane that investigators suspect
was Flight MH370 following a commonly used navigational route
toward the Middle East and Europe when it was last spotted by
radar early on March 8, northwest of Malaysia.
The electronic pulses were believed to have been transmitted
for several hours after the plane flew out of radar range, said
the source familiar with the data.
The most likely possibility is that after travelling
northwest, the airliner did a sharp turn to the south, into the
Indian Ocean where officials think, based on the available data,
it flew until it ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea, added
The other interpretation from the pulses is that Flight
MH370 continued to fly to the northwest and headed over Indian
territory, said the source.
The plane had enough fuel for its scheduled flight that
would have lasted just under six hours from Kuala Lumpur to
Beijing and some for reserve.
At the point it was reported to have first diverted from its
intended flight path, when it was off Malaysia's east coast, the
plane would have had just under five hours of fuel left.
Around 45 minutes later, when the radar plot believed to be
the aircraft was last spotted off Malaysia's northwest coast, it
would have had enough fuel to fly for another four hours or so -
enough to take it another 2,200 miles assuming a cruising speed
and altitude of 35,000 feet.
Because of the fragmentary nature of the data, U.S.
officials don't know for sure which analysis is correct,
although they believe the turn to the south is more likely, the
The source added that it was believed unlikely the plane
flew for any length of time over India because that country has
strong air defence and radar coverage and that should have
allowed authorities there to see the plane and intercept it.
A U.S. government official, who requested anonymity as they
were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, explained
that the satellite data was patchy because it was never intended
to be a primary location system.
The official described the signals as a "handshake" - a
brief interaction between plane and satellite.
In normal circumstances, this handshake would precede the
sharing of more data, but this did not happen because the
plane's transponders had been apparently switched off.
No location data was transmitted, the official said, merely
a calculation telling the satellite in which direction to tilt
its equipment to search for the plane.
Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on
Friday he could not confirm the last heading of the plane or if
investigators were focusing on sabotage.
There has been no trace of the plane nor any sign of
wreckage as the navies and military aircraft of more than a
dozen countries scour the seas on both sides of peninsular