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)

For five days, investigators and news outlets have been scrambling for any information, any little tidbit, about the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. The details have been threadbare: We know that the flight, a Boeing 777, left Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. Saturday and was supposed to arrive in Beijing about six hours later. Not even an hour after takeoff, air traffic controllers lost contact with the flight, which was carrying 239 people. A stunning mystery arose.

Yesterday, satellite images released by China gave momentary hope that debris may have been spotted. Nope — those images were released by “mistake,” it turns out.

The information deficit explains why the Wall Street Journal’s investigative story on the missing airliner landed with such impact. Written by Wall Street Journal reporter Andy Pasztor with assists from five other newspaper staffers, the story had a big reveal: That the plane had continued flying for “about four hours past the time it reached its last confirmed location.” That’s what “U.S. investigators” suspect, according to two sources the Journal story does not name.

Investigators are basing their conclusions on data sent from the 777′s Rolls Royce engines “as part of a routine maintenance and monitoring program,” wrote Pasztor, who has been with the Wall Street Journal for more than 30 years. The Wall Street Journal cites someone familiar with the engines as saying that they send “snippets” of information “in 30-minute increments.” The altitude and speed of the jetliner are included in these transmissions.

The four-hour suspicion, notes the Wall Street Journal story, has massive implications for authorities, who would face an unworkable search area. Also: Investigators are checking into whether the jetliner got diverted “with the intention of using it later for another purpose,” reported the Journal.

Except that Malaysian authorities disputed the Wall Street Journal account in a press conference today. The last data dump from the aircraft’s engines came at 1:07 a.m., according to Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, according to The Post. “The last transmission was received at 1:07,” Ahmad said, according to the Post. “It said everything is operating normally.”

And so the question is whether Pasztor’s unnamed sources carry credibility vis-a-vis on-the-record denials from the Malaysians. In the opinion of one expert, yes. Appearing on CNN today, Bob Francis, former vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, termed the Wall Street Journal story “remarkable.” When asked to explain that assessment, Francis explained, “Well, Andy Pasztor is a very reputable journalist who knows his stuff in aviation as much as anyone. For him to create this article out of whole cloth for me stretches credulity. . . . So you don’t know where to go. I would go with what Andy said because I have great faith in him and he doesn’t have any political ax to grind, as do the Malaysians.”

Pasztor and the Wall Street Journal have yet to respond to requests for comment.

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