KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein dismissed as "inaccurate" Thursday a report that claimed, based on engine data, that missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 may have flown on for four hours following its last communication with air traffic control.
Hishammuddin acknowledged that it is possible that the plane continued flying for a period of time but said a report in the Wall Street Journal stating that engine data from the jetliner continued to transmit information even after the plane lost contact with airport authorities was not correct.
"We have not ruled out the possibility that it has flown on," he said.
The last data transmitted from the engines was received at 01.07 a.m. on the day the plane vanished, and indicated that "everything is operating normally," said Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya. Rolls Royce, the engine maker, and Boeing, the plane manufacturer, also confirmed that no further data were received from the engines, he said. The last civilian radar signal came at 01.30 a.m. Saturday morning.
In another dramatic twist in the search-and-rescue efforts now into their sixth day, Hishammuddin said that satellite images released by China Wednesday are not debris from the plane.
MORE: China: Satellite images show possible plane debris
The images showed murky images of what might have been three pieces of debris of significant size, leading to a fruitless search Thursday by Malaysian aircraft in the area indicated, which matched the expected flight path.
Chinese authorities later explained the image release was an accident, and did not show MH370 plane debris, said Hishammuddin. The publication on an official Chinese government agency website was a result of "personal behavior which is now under investigation," and was not authorized nor endorsed by the Chinese government, he said, reading from a statement from the Chinese Embassy to Malaysia.
Hishammuddin again defended the Malaysian authorities' response to what he called an "unprecedented" and "crisis" situation.
"We have not done anything that would jeopardize this search effort… Malaysia has nothing to hide. We have spared no expense and no effort" in a search that he said has expanded to include 43 ships and 40 aircraft, operating on both sides of the Malaysian Peninsula.
The original flight plan ran up the east side of the peninsula, over the South China Sea, but the search was extended in recent days to the west side — the Straits of Malacca — after military radar indicated the possibility of a plane making a turn back and flying into that area.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board reviewed the data and agreed with Malaysian authorities that there were "reasonable grounds" to search on the western side of peninsular Malaysia, he said. Malaysia would not ordinarily release raw data from its military radars, but "in this case we have put the search effort above our national security," and shared data with the USA, China and others, said Hishammuddin.
Like conversations around the world, the plane's fate and mysterious disappearance is dominating discussions in Malaysia. "Maybe it was black magic," said Hairul Nizam, 37, a taxi driver at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. "Why was there no electrical signal from the plane? All our phones give off signals. The U.S. has such good technology, but they cannot find it," he said.
"Maybe there is some news hidden from the people," suggested his friend Zuherrdy Nasution, a sailor from Indonesia who lives in Kuala Lumpur. The most common explanations he had heard involved hijacking or sabotage. Both defended the national carrier, Malaysia Airlines, that Nasution was set to fly on Thursday afternoon. "It is still a good airline, and the Malaysian government is trying its best," said Nizam.
At the airport's main viewing area, visitors have written hundreds of hopes and prayers on specially prepared sheets and white boards. "Sometimes miracle takes time… surely you will all come home safe — don't lose hope," read one. Nearby, KFC employee Hakimi Yusoff took his lunch break Thursday and said Islam would help Malay families deal with their loss. "It was fate, from God, and we must accept the fate of God," said Hakimi Yusoff, 18.
Kim Hjelmgaard reported from London.