A satellite communications company said today that the missing Malaysia Airlines plane contacted its network on the day it disappeared in what could turn out to be a big break in the effort to locate the jetliner or determine where it went.
Inmarsat, a British company, said today, "Routine, automated signals were registered on the Inmarsat network from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 during its flight from Kuala Lumpur."
It said the information was shared with SITA, a company that specializes in air transport communications. SITA shared with details with Malaysia Airlines, Inmarsat said.
Inmarsat on its website says the satellite system "facilitates the automatic reporting of an aircraft’s real-time position, including altitude, speed and heading, via satellite to air traffic control centres, helping controllers know where an aircraft is at all times."
If the "pings" sent by the Malaysia Airlines jet to the satellite indicate location or flying direction it could help solve the mystery that began a week ago when the jet carrying 369 passengers disappeared from radar.
ABC News had previously reported that the missing plane continued to "ping" a satellite after two of its communications system, including its transponder, had shut down.
Inmarsat's statement came hours after investigators said they could not rule out hijacking and are looking at whether one of the plane's pilots or crew could have been involved.
Malaysia's Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein made clear that investigators do not know what happened to the jetliner despite a week of intense searching.
U.S. officials who have been briefed on the investigation have said two of the plane's communications systems were shut down separately and it appeared to have been done manually.
“There are four or five possibilities which we are exploring," Hishammuddin told a news conference today. "It could have been done intentionally. It could be done under duress. It could have been done because of an explosion. That’s why I don’t want to go into the realm of speculation. We are looking at the all the possibilities.”
When asked whether investigators were looking at whether one of the plane's two pilots or cabin crew could have involved in whatever happened to the plane, he replied. “We are looking at that possibility.”
“The investigation into the pilots is ongoing,” he said in response to another question, but said they have not yet searched their homes.
Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya added to the speculation that the plane's disappearance was the result of a plot rather than a catastrophic failure of the airplane's systems. “We cannot confirm whether there is no hijacking. Like I said from the start, and I’ve been very consistent, we are looking at all possibilities,” Yahya said.
A senior U.S. military official told ABC News that they had not ruled out that the plane was flown to a secret site so it could be used at a later date.
"I am keenly interested in resolving this mystery so we can discard the possibility, however remote, that the airplane can be used for nefarious purposes against us in the future," the official said. The official added that "all our intelligence assets" are being used to try to figure this out.
The plane vanished early Saturday about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur and heading for Beijing. It disappeared from radar at 1:30 a.m. local time. After searching intently east of Malaysia in the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, much of the attention has shifted hundreds of miles west in the Strait of Malacca and the Indian Ocean. Officials believe it may have flown west because Malaysian military radar picked up a signal after the jetliner disappeared and they believe it may have been flight MH370.
“I will be the happiest person if we can confirm that (the military radar blip) is MH 370 because then we could move all our assets to the Strait of Malacca. But at this time we cannot do that,” Hishammuddin said today.
Investigators are trying to retrieve data from the satellites that had been pinged by the missing airliner in the hopes that those contacts might aid in plotting the plane's final position.
Vietnamese officials added some detail to the plane's mystery today by telling ABC News that when flight MH370 left Malaysian airspace and failed to make contact with Vietnamese air traffic controllers, the Vietnamese asked another plane in the area that was heading to Japan to contact MH370.
The Japan-bound plane reported back to the Vietnamese controllers that when it reached MH370 only a “buzz signal” came back, but no voices. And then the signal went dead. The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not say what time that contact was made.
The destroyer USS Kidd arrived in the northwestern section of the Strait of Malacca today to help search that vast expanse of sea.
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