Kuala Lumpur: 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.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak addresses the media during a press conference at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on March 15, 2014. Pic/AFP
"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.
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.
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." 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 involved 43 ships and 58 aircraft.
"We realise this is an excruciating time for the families of those on board. No words can describe the pain they must be going through. Our thoughts and our prayers are with them," Najib said. "There has been intense speculation," he said. "We understand the desperate need for information on behalf of the families and those watching around the world. But we have a responsibility to the investigation and the families to only release information that has been corroborated."
Hours before Najib's announcement, US officials told CNN the flight made drastic changes in altitude and direction after disappearing from civilian radar. These changes raise questions as to who was at the controls of the jetliner when it vanished. The more the US learns about the flight's pattern, "the more difficult to write off" the idea that some type of human intervention was involved, an official familiar with the investigation said.
CNN reported that a classified analysis of electronic and satellite data suggests the flight likely crashed either in the Bay of Bengal or elsewhere in the Indian Ocean. Najib said some those areas have been searched. Taken together, the data points toward speculation of a dark scenario in which someone took control of the plane for some unknown purpose, perhaps terrorism.
The jetliner was flying "a strange path," a US official said on condition of anonymity. The details of the radar readings were first reported on Friday. Malaysian military radar showed the plane climbing to 45,000 feet soon after disappearing from civilian radar screens and then dropping to 23,000 feet before climbing again, the official said.
The question of what happened to the jetliner has turned into one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history, befuddling industry experts and government officials.