Officials dismissed reports Thursday that the missing Malaysian airliner's engines continued sending data for hours after its last contact, but said it was possible the plane continued flying and that they would widen their search farther to the west.
The Wall Street Journal newspaper quoted U.S. investigators on Thursday as saying they suspected the Boeing 777 remained in the air for about four hours after its last confirmed contact, citing data from the plane's engines that are automatically transmitted to the ground as part of a routine maintenance program.
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the government had contacted Boeing and Rolls Royce, the engine manufacturer, and both had said the last engine data was received at 1:07 a.m., before the plane lost contact over the South China Sea on its way to Beijing.
An international search effort is sweeping the South China Sea and also the Strait of Malacca because of unconfirmed military radar sightings indicating the plane may have changed course and headed west after it stopped communicating.
Asked if it were possible that the plane kept flying for several hours, Hishammuddin said, "of course, this is why we have extended the search."
He said the search had been expanded into the Andaman Sea and that the country was asking for radar data from neighboring countries. If the plane flew far from current search areas, then locating it will be a much harder task.
Investigators have not ruled out any possible cause for the disappearance of the plane and the 239 people on board.