Updated*

It is obvious that the Malaysia authorities are keeping secret some important information about the disappearance of MH370, the Malaysia Airlines 777-200 flight that vanished over the Gulf of Thailand early last Saturday morning.

When Flightglobal put technical questions to Malaysia’s Civil Aviation department about automated ACARS messages from the airliner it was told there was no comment because of the ‘sensitivity of the investigations’.

The full Flightglobal story is here. As it explains, ACARS or the Aircraft Communications and Reporting System can transmit anything from a great deal to very little service information from jets to airlines depending on what they want and how frequently they want it.

(Update Malaysia Airlines says that no ACARS information was transmitted from MH370, which may also be significant if it were to explain how much information ACARS would normally have sent, and about what, and how frequently, during this flight.)

The only logical explanation for not answering the Flightglobal questions would be that the information ACARS provided was not trivial, but was a factor in the subsequent actions of the Malaysia authorities, who spoke about a possible turn back toward Kuala Lumpur by the flight that was on its way to Beijing with 239 people on board early on Saturday morning.

Malaysia also greatly extended the search area well beyond the Gulf of Thailand at least 24 hours before they briefed the media on this late yesterday and again today.

There is another logical conclusion to be drawn from this action, which is that the authorities have reason to believe that jet was not destroyed immediately after last radar fix at 1.22 am local time Saturday, or 1.30 am when an emergency frequency radio communication to MH370 via another jet ended according to a detailed yet unconfirmed report.

However it is apparent the authorities aren’t sure where the jet went, or at what altitude, after last radar and last claimed radio contact. Hence a search area that includes of course coastline, and land masses, from the Straits of Malacca in the west to an area east of Vietnam and northwards toward Hong Kong.

The conclusions that have been drawn by the Malaysia authorities must perforce envisage that the persons in control of the cockpit had turned off its radar transponder, which would identify it to air traffic control systems, and either chosen to fly in radio silence, or been forced to, to an unknown place, or more likely, the site of a crash.  ACARS can be switched off by pilots, according to guidance sought from pilots.

If the authorities truly believed that MH370 was destroyed almost immediately at a last known location 162 kilometres NE of Kota Baru on the eastern side the Malaysia Peninsula as it began crossing the Gulf of Thailand toward Vietnam at an altitude of 35,000 feet, they would have focused all of the search resources in a tight pattern around that place, and not dispersed them across a wide tract of SE Asia.

Meanwhile, in a truly spooky aftermath of the disappearance relatives of those on board have reported that their mobile phones have continued to ring, but have not answered. Questions as to whether the authorities in Malaysia and China have used those phones to locate the crash site have been brushed aside. Maybe the authorities think the story is a hoax, which is also this reporter’s first reaction. The phantom phones have been dismissed by officials as anomalies or aberrations, and they have also been claimed to be no longer ringing.

Update: Malaysia’s national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said police were still considering all possibilities in terms of criminal involvement in the plane’s disappearance, and were look at the profile and possible pyschological or personal issues or difficulties that might exist in some passengers as well as in the MH370 crew.

This is as reporters say ‘heavy stuff’ and loaded with the potential for all sorts of speculations. The police chief also emphatically repudiated the claims by defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein only yesterday that five passengers had failed to board MH370 and that their luggage had been off loaded before it departed.

Considering the effort and convincing language invested by the minister in delivering the narrative of the five no-shows, one has to ask how much trust in the official commentary about this flight is warranted. Other sources had been reported a day ago as saying the five no-shows were being traced and interviewed and even that their offloaded luggage had been checked.

Now we are told that all of this is untrue.

None of the matters reported above solve the mystery of MH370. But they do suggest that authorities are not mystified or puzzled as they claim, but in possession of important undisclosed information as to what may have happened to it more than three and a half days ago.

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