Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia's transport minister, and Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation, give a news conference Wednesday. (Wong Maye-E/AP)
Hishammuddin Hussein, left, Malaysia’s transport minister, and Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation, at a news conference Wednesday. (Wong Maye-E/Associated Press)

The Wall Street Journal is issuing a correction to its much-talked-about story alleging that the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 continued flying for hours after slipping out of contact very early last Saturday morning. The Journal’s corrected story sticks with that central contention — that the plane continued flying — but bails on how investigators reached that conclusion.

The original story claimed that investigators had secured data from the Rolls Royce engines on the Boeing 777 — data that the engines send to the ground every 30 minutes. Following publication of the story, officials in Malaysia contended that no engine data was received after 1:07 a.m. on Saturday, about a half-hour after the flight took off. So engine data, they said, yielded no conclusion that the flight had continued for four hours, as the Wall Street Journal reported.

Other data, however, did. As a statement from Wall Street Journal spokesman Colleen Schwartz to the Erik Wemple Blog notes:

The Wall Street Journal confirms its report that U.S. investigators suspect Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 stayed in the air for up to four hours past the time it reached its last confirmed location. The Journal has since learned, however, that this belief is based on an analysis of signals sent through the Boeing 777’s satellite-communication link, and not from data sent by the plane’s Rolls-Royce engines to Rolls Royce, as was earlier incorrectly reported. Our report has been corrected.

The Post reports that the critical data about the plane’s flight duration “came from the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, a way that planes maintain contact with ground stations through radio or satellite signals.”

Upshot: The Wall Street Journal got the most important part of the story correct. The continuation of the flight is critical to the story, and it opens up a sea of unthinkable possibilities for the search mission. Search operations in the Indian Ocean may be launched, said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. Yet the data component of the story is hardly trifling. All day long, folks — read: CNN — were trying to game out just who was right: The Wall Street Journal, with its engine-data contentions, or the Malaysians disputing them. At the very least, the Wall Street Journal should consider sending an e-mail apology to the media liaison people at Rolls Royce.

Here’s how the Wall Street Journal apprised readers of its data slip-up:

Corrections & Amplifications
U.S. investigators suspect Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 flew for hours past the time it reached its last confirmed location, based on an analysis of signals sent through the plane’s satellite-communication link designed to automatically transmit the status of onboard systems, according to people familiar with the matter. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said investigators based their suspicions on signals from monitoring systems embedded in the plane’s Rolls-Royce PLC engines and described that process.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.