Not ruling out a hijack, Malaysia today said the movement of the missing Flight MH370 with 239 people on board was “consistent with deliberate action by someone on plane“.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said authorities are now trying to trace the plane across two possible corridors — in the north to the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and a southern corridor from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.

“Based on new satellite communication we can say with a high degree of certainty that the aircraft communication addressing system was disabled just before the aircraft reached the east coast of Malaysia,” Najib told reporters here at a press conference.

Transponder switched off

He said the aircraft’s transponder was switched off shortly afterwards when the plane was between the border of Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control.

“Radar data showed that from this point onwards a plane believed to be MH370 did turn back and turned back in a westerly direction before turning north west.

“These were deliberate actions of someone on plane,” he said, but stopped short of saying the aircraft had been hijacked.

“The last satellite communication was at 8.11 am (local time) on March 8,” he said, suggesting that the plane was in the air for 7.5 hours after it lost the control.

The plane had left Kuala lumpur for Beijing at 12:41 am and lost contact with civilian radar and hour later.

“Despite the media of reports hijacking, I am very clear we are still looking into all possibilities,” he said.

Refocus on crew, passengers

The Prime Minister said that based on the raw satellite radar it could be confirmed that the aircraft which was spotted an hour after it vanished from the civilian radar and seen on the military’s primary radar was indeed the missing Malaysian plane Boeing 777 Flight MH370.

Najib said there will be a refocus on investigation on crew and passengers.

“Clearly the search for MH370 has entered a new phase,” he said. “We hope this new information brings us one step closer to finding the plane.”

Search in South China Sea called off

He said, “We are ending our operation in the South China Sea and reassessing the deployment of our assets.”

There has been no trace of the plane nor any sign of wreckage despite a search by the navies and military aircraft of 14 countries across Southeast Asia that involve 43 ships and 58 aircraft.

Hijacked, say investigators

Earlier on Saturday, investigators had concluded that one or more people with significant flying experience hijacked the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, switched off communication devices and steered it off-course, a Malaysian government official involved in the investigation said today.

No motive has been established and no demands have been made known, and it is not yet clear where the plane was taken, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media. The official said that hijacking was no longer a theory.

“It is conclusive,” he said.

He said evidence that led to the conclusion were signs that the plane’s communications were switched off deliberately, data about the flight path and indications the plane was steered in a way to avoid detection by radar.

The Boeing 777’s communication with the ground was severed just under one hour into a flight March 8 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Malaysian officials previously have said radar data suggest it may have turned back toward and crossed over the Malaysian peninsula after setting out on a northeastern path toward the Chinese capital.

Earlier, an American official told The Associated Press that investigators are examining the possibility of “human intervention” in the plane’s disappearance, adding it may have been “an act of piracy.”

While other theories are still being examined, the US official said key evidence suggesting human intervention is that contact with the Boeing 777’s transponder stopped about a dozen minutes before a messaging system on the jet quit. Such a gap would be unlikely in the case of an in-flight catastrophe.

The Malaysian official said only a skilled aviator could navigate the plane the way it was flown after its last confirmed location over the South China Sea.

The official said it had been established with a “more than 50 per cent” degree of certainty that military radar had picked up the missing plane after it dropped off civilian radar. Why anyone would want to do this is unclear.

Malaysian authorities and others will be urgently investigating the backgrounds of the two pilots and 10 crew members, as well the 227 passengers, including five Indians, on board.

Some experts have said that pilot suicide may be the most likely explanation for the disappearance, as was suspected in a SilkAir crash during a flight from Singapore to Jakarta in 1997 and an EgyptAir flight in 1999.

A massive international search effort began initially in the South China Sea where the plane’s transponders stopped transmitting. It has since been expanded onto the other side of the Malay peninsula up into the Andaman Sea and into the Indian Ocean.

The plane had enough fuel to fly for at least five hours after its last know location, meaning a vast swath of South and Southeast Asia would be within its reach. Investigators are analysing radar and satellite data from around the region to try and pinpoint its final location, something that will be vital to hopes of finding the plane, and answering the mystery of what happened to it.

(This article was published on March 15, 2014)
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