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Mystery Malaysia Flight 370 may have been hundreds of miles off course

8:57 PM, Mar 11, 2014   |    comments
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Risman Siregar, left, comforts his wife, Erlina Panjaitan. They are parents of Firman Chandra Siregar, a 24-year-old passenger on missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.(Photo: ATARATAR/AFP/Getty Images)



(CNN/USA TODAY) -- The Malaysian Air Force has traced the last known location of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 to a spot above Pulau Perak, a very small island in the Straits of Malacca and hundreds of miles from the usual Kuala Lumpur to Beijing flight path, according to a senior Malaysian Air Force official. 

The official declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

See Also: Terrorism link not likely, Interpol says

If the Malaysian Air Force data cited by the source is correct, the aircraft was flying the opposite direction from its scheduled destination and on the opposite side of the Malay Peninsula from its scheduled route.

Previous accounts had the aircraft losing touch with air traffic control near the coast of Vietnam.

Families: Cellphones of missing passengers still ring

Meanwhile, family members of a few passengers aboard missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 are pushing the airline to search for the GPS location of their loved ones' cellphones after saying they'd successfully placed calls to missing passengers' mobile phones.

A few family members said dialing the numbers resulted in ringing tones on the other end, even though the calls weren't picked up, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. Bian Liangwei, sister of one of the passengers, told the International Business Times that she reached her older brother's phone Monday afternoon. 

"If I could get through, the police could locate the position, and there is a chance he could still be alive," she said.

But industry experts say ringing phones don't necessarily mean that the calls are going through.

"The ringing is not actually ringing at the other phone yet," industry analyst Jeff Kagan said. "It's just telling you that the network is in the process of finding and connecting to it."

Locally placed calls may connect almost instantaneously, he said, but long-distance or international calls may "ring" several times before the phone is found or the system can't find it and disconnects the call.

Each carrier handles voicemail differently, but in general calls are all handled similarly. The ringing keeps callers from hanging up when they hear no sound, said Amy Storey, spokeswoman for CTIA, the Washington, D.C.-based trade group for wireless carriers. "The ringing sound has nothing to do with the actual 'ringing' of the called party's device," she said.

The ringing is "part of the process of wireless" communication, Kagan said. "In this particular case it's painful because it gives people false hope."

During a meeting with passengers' families, Malaysia Airlines' Hugh Dunleavy said the company had similar results - it tried calling mobile phones of crewmembers, which also rang. The company turned over those phone numbers to Chinese authorities, the Post reported.

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