Last transmission from missing plane was routine

By By The Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The last message from the cockpit of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight was routine. "All

right, good night," was the signoff transmitted to air traffic controllers five days ago.

Then the Boeing 777 vanished as it cruised over the South China Sea toward Vietnam, and nothing has been seen or heard of

the jetliner since.

Those final words were picked up by controllers and relayed Wednesday in Beijing to anguished relatives of some of the 239

people aboard Flight MH370.

The search for the missing plane, which left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday, now encompasses 35,800 square miles

(92,600 square kilometers) of Southeast Asia and is expanding toward India.

After several days of sometimes confusing and conflicting statements, the Malaysian military officially disclosed why it was

searching on both sides of country: A review of military radar records showed what might have been the plane turning back

and crossing westward into the Strait of Malacca.

Air force chief Gen. Rodzali Daud said the radar showed an unidentified object at 2:15 a.m. about 200 miles (320 kilometers)

northwest of Penang. "I am not saying it's Flight MH370. We are still corroborating this. It was an unidentifiable plot,"

he said.

Foreign experts and the manufacturers of the

radar were studying the images to try to determine whether the blips

were in

fact the missing plane. For now, authorities said the

international search effort would stay focused on the South China Sea

and the strait leading toward the Andaman Sea.

Some of the confusion over the statements by Malaysian officials has led to allegations of incompetence, lack of coordination

or even a cover-up.

"There's too much information and confusion

right now. It is very hard for us to decide whether a given piece of

information

is accurate," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in

Beijing. "We will not give it up as long as there's still

a shred of hope."

Two-thirds of the passengers on the flight were Chinese.

"We have nothing to hide," said Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein. "There is only confusion if you want to see

confusion."

Flight MH370 disappeared from civilian radar

screens at 1:30 a.m. Saturday at an altitude of about 35,000 feet above

the Gulf

of Thailand between Malaysia and southern Vietnam. It sent no

distress signals or any indication it was experiencing problems.

The government said it had asked India to

join in the search near the Andaman Sea, suggesting the jetliner might

have reached

those waters after crossing into the Strait of Malacca, some 400

kilometers (250 miles) from the flight's last-known coordinates.

Malaysian officials met in Beijing with

several hundred Chinese relatives of passengers to explain the search

and investigation,

and to relay the last transmission that Malaysian air traffic

controllers received before the plane entered Vietnamese airspace,

according to a participant in the meeting.

Aviation officials in Vietnam said they never heard from the plane.

Its sudden disappearance led to initial

speculation of a catastrophic incident that caused it to disintegrate.

Another possibility

is that it continued to fly despite a failure of its electrical

systems, which could have knocked out communications, including

transponders that enable the plane to be identified by commercial

radar.

Authorities have not ruled out any possible cause, including mechanical failure, pilot error, sabotage and terrorism, and

they are waiting to find any wreckage or debris to determine what went wrong.

In June 2013, Boeing issued a safety alert

to Boeing 777 operators, telling them to inspect for corrosion and

cracks in the

crown fuselage around a satellite antenna. The alert says one

airline found a 16-inch crack in one plane, then checked other

777s and found more cracking.

"Cracks in the fuselage skin that are not

found and repaired can propagate to the point where the fuselage skin

structure

cannot sustain limit load," Boeing said. "When the fuselage skin

cannot sustain limit load, this can result in possible rapid

decompression and loss of structural integrity."

The FAA issued a safety order Wednesday that is effective April 9, directing operators to make repairs outlined in Boeing's

safety alert.

Asked about the safety alert as it relates to the Malaysia Airlines disappearance, former U.S. National Transportation Safety

Board member and aircraft maintenance expert John Goglia said he thought it was "pretty far down on the probability list."

"It could lead to depressurization of the airplane," Goglia said, "but it wouldn't turn off the transponder and it wouldn't

prevent the pilots from calling" by radio.

Aeronautical engineer Chuck Eastlake, a former professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., added

that it's unlikely a rapid depressurization of the plane would cause it to disintegrate in the air.

Two U.S. Federal Aviation Administration

technical experts and a regional representative are in Kuala Lumpur as

part of an

NTSB team supporting the investigation. Experts in air traffic

control and radar are providing technical help, the board said.

Hishammuddin described the multinational search as unprecedented. Some 43 ships and 39 aircraft from at least eight nations

were scouring an area to the east and west of Peninsular Malaysia.

"It's not something that is easy. We are

looking at so many vessels and aircraft, so many countries to

coordinate, and a vast

area for us to search," he told a news conference. "But we will

never give up. This we owe to the families of those on board."

Confusion over whether the plane had been seen flying west prompted speculation that different arms of the government might

have different opinions about its location, or even that authorities were holding back information.

Earlier in the week, Malaysia's head of

civil aviation, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, was asked why the Strait of

Malacca was being

searched and replied, "There are things I can tell you, and things

I can't," suggesting that the government wasn't being completely

transparent.

If all those on board are confirmed dead, it would be the deadliest commercial air accident in 10 years.

Choi Tat Sang, a 74-year-old Malaysian, said

his family is still holding out hope that the plane and all on board

are safe.

His 45-year-old daughter-in-law, Goh Sock Lay, was the chief

flight attendant. Her 14-year-old daughter, an only child, has

been crying every day since the plane's disappearance.

"We are heartbroken. We are continuing to pray for her safety and for everyone on the flight," he said.