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Aviation

No sign of debris as US investigators suspect MH370 plane flew for hours

Search planes have found no sign of missing flight MH370 in an area where debris was reported. Meanwhile, a US newspaper report has said the plane may have stayed in the air for a total of five hours.

Clues missing as search continues

After officials said they found no signs of plane wreckage Thursday in an area where Chinese satellite images claimed to show "three suspected floating objects," Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the images were released "by mistake and did not show any debris."

China reported the objects late Wednesday and said they were at a suspected crash site near the airplane’s last confirmed location. The last contact was made halfway between Malaysia and Vietnam at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, less than an hour after the Malaysia Airlines plane took off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing with 239 people on board.

The search effort has been repeatedly dogged by false leads and conflicting information, drawing mounting criticism against Malaysian rescue officials.

Around two-thirds of the flight's passengers were Chinese, and China has been pressuring the Malaysian government to get to the bottom of the plane's disappearance. Premier Li Keqiang, speaking at a news conference in Beijing, demanded that the "relevant party" step up coordination.

On Wednesday, Malaysian authorities said they tracked what could have been the plane changing course and heading west but they remain uncertain about in which ocean to search for the plane.

MH370 'flew for hours'

US investigators suspect that the missing passenger jet stayed in the air for about four hours past the time it lost contact with air traffic controllers, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The report said aviation investigators and national security officials had come to this conclusion based on "data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground" from the engines of the Boeing plane, which is part of routine maintenance programs.

The report raises the possibility that the missing Boeing 777 could have flown on for hundreds of additional miles. It also questions whether anyone was in control during that time and under what conditions.

However, the report has been denied by Malaysian officials. "Those reports are inaccurate," Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Thursday. He said the aircraft's Rolls-Royce engines last transmitted data at 1:07 a.m.

"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 added.

Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines said Thursday it would retire the flight codes MH370 and MH371 "as a mark of respect" to the people on board its missing passenger jet.

"Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families of our colleagues and passengers of MH370," the national carrier said in a statement.

hc/tj (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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