Malaysian Airlines today confirmed that flight MH370 had been carrying highly flammable lithium-ion batteries in its cargo hold, re-igniting speculation that a fire may have caused its disappearance.
The admission by CEO Ahmad Jauhari comes four days after he denied the aircraft was carrying any dangerous items and nearly two weeks after the plane went missing.
He said the authorities were investigating the cargo, but did not regard the batteries as hazardous – despite the law dictating they are classed as such – because they were packaged according to safety regulations.
The revelation has thrown the spotlight back on the theory that the Boeing 777 may have been overcome by a fire, rendering the crew and passengers unconscious after inhaling toxic fumes.
Lithium-ion batteries – which are used in mobile phones and laptops – have been responsible for a number of fires on planes and have even brought aircraft down in recent years.
According to US-based Federal Aviation Administration, lithium-ion batteries carried in the cargo or baggage have been responsible for more than 140 incidents between March 1991 and February 17 this year, it was reported by Malaysiakini.
In rare cases, aircraft have been destroyed as a result of fires started from the devices, although they have been cargo planes in both incidents.
In one case, UPS Airlines Flight 6 crashed while attempting an emergency landing in September 2010 en route from Dubai to Cologne in Germany.
Flight MH370 disappeared from radar screens two weeks ago on March 8 after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing.
The second day of a new search, concentrating on a desolate area in the southern Indian Ocean, failed to locate two possible pieces of debris from the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777.
Aircraft and ships scoured the seas around 2,500kilometres off the coast of the Australian city of Perth, for 10 hours before darkness fell. Australian officials have vowed to continue the search tomorrow.
Billie Vincent, the former head of security for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, said the revelation re-affirmed his belief that flames started in the cargo hold, destroying the aircraft’s communication systems then filling the cabin with toxic fumes.
This, he says, would have overwhelmed the passengers but may have given the pilots a chance to divert the aircraft for an emergency landing.
He told Air Traffic Management: ‘The data released thus far most likely points to a problem with hazardous materials.
It is thought the missing plane climbed to 45,000ft – a move Mr Vincent believes may have resulted from the pilots not being able to see the controls properly.
Reversal: When asked four days ago if there was any hazardous cargo on aboard, Mr Jauhari said no, adding that it was carrying ‘three to four tonnes of mangosteens’
Questioned: Mr Jauhari Yahya (left) and Department Civil Aviation Director General Azharuddin Abdul Rahman update the media on the progress of the investigation
Responding to a question at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Mr Jauhari said: ‘We carried some lithium-ion small batteries, they are not big batteries and they are basically approved under the ICAO (The International Civil Aviation Organisation) under dangerous goods.
‘They (lithium-ion batteries) are not dangerous goods per se, but in terms (of) they are (being) declared as dangerous goods under ICAO.’
He insisted they were checked several times to ensure they complied with the guidelines.
‘Airlines do that all the time, it is not just Malaysia Airlines. These goods are being flown by many airlines as cargo anyway, (which) is based on ICAO’s ruling,’ he added.
When asked earlier this week if there was hazardous cargo on board, Mr Jauhari said no, adding that it was carrying ‘three to four tonnes of mangosteens’.
‘We’ve got a lot of hope’: Captain Russell Adams, the pilot of the Australian P3 Orion updates the media on the search for MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean after landing back at Pearce air base in Perth
A long way south: The southern search zone is one of the most remote places on Earth
Heartache: Relatives wait for new information on the search for MH370 at a hotel in Beijing
Hope: A man returns a message posted along with others in the shape of a heart which are dedicated to families and passengers of MH370. Australian search teams still believe they may find survivors
IF BATTERY PACKS FAIL THEY ARE PRONE TO BURSTING INTO FLAMES
Lithium-ion batteries are found in everyday items including laptops, mobile phones, iPods and other electrical products.
They are very common, because pound for pound, they are one of the most energetic rechargeable batteries available.
The batteries do have the ability to burst into flames, and while it is uncommon, when they ignite they can cause an extreme fire.
Lithium-ion batteries are very sensitive to high temperatures. Heat can cause the battery packs to degrade much faster than they normally would.
If the battery fails there is a chance the pack could burst into flames.
They can pose a danger and safety hazard since they contain, unlike other rechargeable batteries, a flammable electrolyte and are kept pressurised.
Radar also confirmed the flight later dropped to 23,000ft which, according to Mr Vincent, is a diversion altitude set by manufacturers to limit the spread of the fire.
The United Arab Emirates’ General Civil Aviation Authority blamed the crash, which killed the crew, on the batteries which it believed may have ‘auto-ignited’ and filled the flight deck with smoke.
The batteries have also caused problems in the cabin including a flight attendant and two passengers who were burned when they handled a mobile phone and spare battery in September 2012.
Six months earlier, a lithium battery caught fire inside one passenger’s personal air purifier.
The incident prompted to the ICAO to introduce a new rule last year stating that any cargo with more than two lithium-ion batteries be packaged under hazardous goods regulations.
Malaysia Airlines has not responded to a call from MailOnline.
Today the transcript of the last communication between the flight deck of the missing plane and ground control emerged.
The final 54 minutes of dialogue between Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid and air traffic controllers is captured from take off until the moment Hamid uttered the last message: ‘Alright, good night.’
Revelation: The transcript of the last 54 minutes of communication between co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid (left), Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah (right) and ground control revealed the point at which the plane diverted off course, turning west was when air traffic controllers in Malaysia handed over to colleagues in Vietnam
Two minutes later the plane’s transponder was disabled.
The transcript shows the moment the plane took an unexpected turn west, over north Malaysia coincided with the point at which air traffic controllers in Kuala Lumpur handed over to their Vietnamese colleagues in Ho Chi Minh City.
Former British Airways pilot Stephen Buzdygan told The Telegraph, if he was planning to steal an aeroplane, that would be the moment to choose.
He said: ‘There might be a bit of dead space between the air traffic controllers … It was the only time during the flight they would maybe not have been able to be seen from the ground.’
From the first sign-in at 12.36am local time, when the plane was on the ground in Kuala Lumpur, co-pilot Hamid gave regular and routine updates, alerting air traffic controllers to the plane’s location, ascent and altitude.
‘The communication up until the plane went to the changeover [to Vietnam] sounds totally normal,’ Mr Mr Buzdygan said. ‘I’ve done it hundreds of times. It is perfectly normal.’
Search mission: A Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion search plane passes over the Norwegian car transport ship Hoegh St Petersburg, as it scours the ocean for any sign of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight
Australian officials pledged to continue the search for two large objects spotted by a satellite earlier this week, which had raised hopes that the two-week hunt for the Boeing 777 that disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board was nearing a breakthrough.
But Australia’s acting prime minister, Warren Truss, tamped down expectations.
‘Something that was floating on the sea that long ago may no longer be floating – it may have slipped to the bottom,’ he said.
‘It’s also certain that any debris or other material would have moved a significant distance over that time, potentially hundreds of kilometers.’
Two pieces of wreckage that are possibly from the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 – one estimated to be 78ft in size – have been found to the west of Australia, it was announced today. Pictured: Satellite pictures released by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority of the object thought to be related to the search for MH370
Aircraft and ships from China headed to the desolate southern Indian Ocean to join the new search for the Malaysia Airlines flight, which disappeared into the ether two weeks ago.
A satellite spotted two large objects in the area earlier this week, raising hopes of finding the Boeing 777 that vanished on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew on board.
Surveillance planes have been scouring the area – about 2,500 kilometres southwest of the Australian city of Perth – the size of the English Channel.
But after ten hours the second day of the search proved unsuccessful.
Australian officials pledged to continue the effort. even as they tried to tamp down expectations.
‘It’s about the most inaccessible spot that you could imagine on the face of the Earth, but if there is anything down there, we will find it,’ Prime Minister Tony Abbott said at a news conference in Papua New Guinea.
‘We owe it to the families and the friends and the loved ones of the almost 240 people on Flight MH370 to do everything we can to try to resolve what is as yet an extraordinary riddle,’ he added.
In Kuala Lumpur, where the plane took off for Beijing, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein thanked the more than two dozen countries involved in the overall search that stretches from Kazakhstan in Central Asia to the southern Indian Ocean. He called the whole process ‘a long haul’.
The search area indicated by the satellite images in the southern Indian Ocean is a four-hour round-trip flight from western Australia, leaving planes with only enough fuel to search for about two hours.
The images were taken March 16, but the search in the area did not start until Thursday because it took time to analyse them.