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UPDATE -- Airline CEO Admits Plane Was Carrying Dangerous Cargo...

  • When asked days ago, he said it was carrying 'tonnes of mangosteens'
  • Lithium-ion batteries have caused 140 mid-air incidents in last 20 years
  • The devices are commonly used in mobile phones and laptops
  • Classed as dangerous by The International Civil Aviation Organisation
  • Reignites theory that missing flight may have crashed after on-board fire
  • Aviation expert said it re-affirm belief that flames started in cargo hold
  • One cargo plane crashed in 2010 after attempting an emergency landing
  • Safety report said battery caught fire and filled the flight deck with smoke

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. 

'This scenario begins with the eruption of hazardous materials within the cargo hold – either improperly packaged or illegally shipped – or both.'

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.

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