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Missing Malaysia Airlines flight sent signals for hours after it disappeared

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Sources speaking to The Wall Street Journal say that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 maintained contact with satellites for several hours after disappearing from radar, raising new questions about where the missing 777 wide-body airliner may be. The aircraft had been on a scheduled route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing before vanishing from air traffic controllers' screens just 40 minutes into the flight last Friday.

The revelation complicates a mystery that has already confounded investigators and experts for nearly a full week, an eternity by search-and-rescue standards for large aircraft. Flight 370's transponder — the device that delivers flight and altitude information to air traffic controllers — was originally believed to have simply stopped working when the flight was presumed to have crashed in the Gulf of Thailand. Now, with evidence that the aircraft's satellite communication (SATCOM) system was online for roughly four hours after the loss of radar contact, the search area is much larger — WSJ notes that it could've remained in the air for some 2,200 miles based on the 777's cruising speed, taking it as far away as Pakistan. Among other things, SATCOM can be used to send periodic diagnostics to ground crew, but investigators say that the airliner's periodic pings contained no actual data.

A simply bizarre situation

As unlikely as it is that an airliner of the 777's size could fly undetected over land (crossing a number of international borders in the process) without raising alarm, the possibility exists that that aircraft has been ferried to an unknown location, either with or without the assistance of the pilots. Investigators, apparently, are now entertaining the possibility that it has been pilfered "with the intention of using it later for another purpose," which would represent one of the most audacious heists in history.

The more likely scenario is still that Flight 370 simply crashed into the waters in or around the Gulf of Thailand, though wreckage of Air France Flight 447 — an Airbus A330 that crashed into the Atlantic in 2009 — was found just a day and a half after it went missing. Investigators are now looking to see whether they can piece together the SATCOM pings to get a better sense of where the big Boeing may have gone, but with every passing day, the mystery deepens.