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Rumor control: 4 things we know about Malaysia flight 370

Search Area Expanded For Missing Malaysian Airliner Carrying 239 Passengers

Handout/Getty Images

In this handout provided by the Angkatan Tentera Malaysia, Malaysian Royal Navy (TLDM) commander Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Jaafar (left), Lieutenant General Dato' Sri Ackbal bin Hj Abdul Samad (2nd left), Malaysian Defence Minister, Minister of Defence & (Acting) Minister of Transport Dato' Seri Hishammuddin Hussein (2nd right), and Malaysian Defence Forces chief Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin discuss their strategy during a search and rescue mission flight on March 11, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

After nine days, the search for Malaysia Airlines flight 370 continues to bring up more questions than answers.

Two dozen countries are now involved in the search, which reaches out 3,200 miles away from its last known location.

And while there are rumors of the plane crashing or a hijacker taking over the flight, investigators have found few clues to confirm anything.

For more on what we do know, Jon Ostrower, reporter with the Wall Street Journal, spoke with Take Two Monday. With Ostrower's help, KPCC deconstructs some of the rumors and speculation and tries to find the truth behind them.

1) The rumor: The plane’s reporting system was switched off.

Perpetuated by: Malaysian officials. When the Prime Minister presented the conclusion that the aircraft had been deliberately turned on Saturday afternoon in Malaysia, he included that when the aircraft crossed the Malaysian coast into the Gulf of Thailand as it headed northeast, a key reporting system was switched off, Jon Ostrower of the Wall Street Journal told KPCC’s Take Two on Monday. After that the aircraft made its final call to air traffic control and then the transponder, which reports the plane's position, was switched off. 

In reality: Ostrower said Malaysian officials have since backtracked, saying there was some initial confusion but the last message from the auto reporting system came as it crossed the coast, not that it was switched off. “So we don’t know when this reporting system was switched off or if the system was necessarily switched off.”

RELATED: Malaysia Airlines: Why the pilot may have turned off the transponder

2) The rumor: The plane disappeared about halfway across the Gulf of Thailand and is likely in that location.

In reality: We have since found out that the aircraft kept flying for about another six and a half hours, Ostrower said. Search and rescue teams have two really wildly divergent ideas about where the aircraft may have gone as it continued to be in contact with an orbiting satellite that sits about 22,000 miles above the surface of the earth. They think the plane either went north through China — and potentially as far north as the Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan border — or it went as far south as the southern Indian Ocean, pretty far off the coast of Australia. 

“You have got a global search,” sad Ostrower. “Probably the largest search for a missing airliner in aviation history."

3) The rumor: The plane crashed due to mechanical failure.

In reality: A crash and some sort of mechanical malfunction is possible, said Ostrower. But, he noted:

As we've seen over the last several days the primary working expectations of investigators is that someone diverted this aircraft, and increasingly it's looking closer toward a criminal investigation rather than a strictly aviation safety investigation. So that opens up an entirely new world of possibilities as far as the national security implications and understanding the motives of whoever began to steer this airplane. Certainly there have been scenarios that have been presented that would say this may be due to mechanical failure and somehow the crew became incapacitated, but investigators around the world believe the turn 370 made was deliberate, and officials in the U.S. and Europe are looking at this as a criminal investigation.

RELATED: Malaysia Airlines: US Navy ship quits search for airliner 

4) The rumor: There is hope that passengers may be alive because family members hear ringing when they call passengers’ cell phones.

Perpetrated by: According to Chinese media, 19 families signed a joint statement confirming they made calls that connected to the missing passengers, but without an answer, the Mirror reported. 

In reality: Different phone carriers act differently, and some will produce a ringing sound for the caller when attempting to locate a phone. Technology industry analyst Jeff Kagan told NPR that the phone company does that "so that the customer doesn't hang up" while the search for that other phone is underway. When a carrier can't find the phone that's being called, any one of several things may happen:

  • The call might be dropped.
  • The call might go to the person's voicemail.
  • The call might go to a recorded message saying it couldn't be completed.

"There's not a standard way" that such uncompleted calls are handled, Kagan told NPR.


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