A Malaysian government official says investigators have concluded that one of the pilots or someone else with flying experience hijacked the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.
The official, who is involved in the investigation, says no motive has been established, and it is not yet clear where the plane was taken. The official 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."
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak told a press conference that the missing passenger jet’s movement was “consistent with deliberate action of somebody on board the plane”.
He also revealed that the Boeing 777 was traced seven hours after it was last in contact with air traffic control and that authorities believed the transponder was disabled.
Salient points from the Malaysian Prime Minister's statement given at the press conference:
- New data shows last confirmed location was Saturday, 8 March at 8.11AM, which indicates how far the plane had flown.
- Based on new satellite communication data, we can say with a high degree of certainty that the aircraft communications, addressing and reporting system or ACARS, was disabled just before the aircraft reached the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia.
- Shortly afterwards, near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic controls, the aircraft transponder was switched off.
- From this point onwards, the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s primary radar showed that an aircraft, believed to be (but not confirmed to be) MH370, did indeed turn back.
- It then flew back over Peninsular Malaysia, before turning north-west into the Straits of Malacca, up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage.
- The PM also said that plane movement was consistent with "deliberate action" by someone on the plane.
- There will be refocused investigation into the crew and passengers on board.
- Despite reports that investigators concluded it was a hijacking, PM Najib said "I wish to be very clear we are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate from its original flight path."
- Based on the direction in which the plane flew, the plane could have headed in one of two possible corridors:
Northern corridor: border of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan to Northern Thailand.
Southern corridor: From Indonesia to Southern Indian Ocean.
- Operations in the South China Sea will be ended and deployment of assets will be reassessed.
- Malaysia Airlines is informing families of the passengers of the new developments: "The search has entered a new phase... We hope this new information will bring us one step closer to finding the plane."
The Boeing 777's communication with the ground was severed under one hour into a flight March 8 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Malaysian officials have said radar data suggest it may have turned back and crossed back over the Malaysian peninsula westward, after setting out toward the Chinese capital.
New type of satellite data
A US official told Associated Press that investigators looking for the plane have run out of clues except for a type of satellite data that has never been used before to find a missing plane, and is very inexact.
The data consists of attempts by an Inmarsat satellite to identify a broad area where the plane might be in case a messaging system aboard the plane should need to connect with the satellite, said the official. The official compared the location attempts, called a "handshake," to someone driving around with their cellphone not in use. As the phone from passes from the range of one cellphone tower to another, the towers note that the phone is in range in case messages need to be sent.
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In the case of the Malaysian plane, there were successful attempts by the satellite to roughly locate the Boeing 777 about once an hour over four to five hours, the official said. "This is all brand new to us," the official said. "We've never had to use satellite handshaking as the best possible source of information."
The handshake does not transmit any data on the plane's altitude, airspeed or other information that might help in locating it, the official said. Instead, searchers are trying to use the handshakes to triangulate the general area of where the plane last was known to have been at the last satellite check, the official said.
"It is telling us the airplane was continuing to operate," the official said, plus enough information on location so that the satellite will know how many degrees to turn to adjust its antenna to pick up any messages from the plane.
The official confirmed prior reports that following the loss of contact with the plane's transponder, the plane turned west. A transponder emits signals that are picked up by radar providing a unique identifier for each plane along with altitude. Malaysian military radar continued to pick up the plane as a whole "paintskin" — a radar blip that has no unique identifier — until it traveled beyond the reach of radar, which is about 320 kilometers (200 miles) offshore, the official said.
The New York Times, quoting American officials and others familiar with the investigation, said radar signals recorded by the Malaysian military appear to show the airliner climbing to 45,000 feet (about 13,700 meters), higher than a Boeing 777's approved limit, soon after it disappeared from civilian radar, and making a sharp turn to the west. The radar track then shows the plane descending unevenly to an altitude of 23,000 feet (7,000 meters), below normal cruising levels, before rising again and flying northwest over the Strait of Malacca toward the Indian Ocean, the Times reported.
TWO POSSIBLE PATHS SUGGESTED
Analysis of electronic pulses picked up from a missing Malaysian airliner shows it could have run out of fuel and crashed into the Indian Ocean after it flew hundreds of miles off course, a source familiar with official U.S. assessments told Reuters.
The source, who is familiar with data the U.S. government is receiving from the investigation into the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane, said the other, but less likely possibility, was that it flew on toward India.
The data obtained from pulses the plane sent to satellites had been interpreted to provide two different analyses because it was ambiguous, said the source, who declined to be identified because of the ongoing investigation.
A U.S. official said in Washington that investigators are examining the possibility of "human intervention" in the plane's disappearance, adding it may have been "an act of piracy." The official, who wasn't authorized to talk to the media and spoke on condition of anonymity, said it also was possible the plane may have landed somewhere.
Earlier Friday, acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the country had yet to determine what happened to the plane after it dropped off civilian radar and ceased communicating with the ground around 40 minutes into the flight to Beijing on March 8.
He said investigators were still trying to establish with certainty that military radar records of a blip moving west across the Malay Peninsula into the Strait of Malacca showed Flight MH370.
"I will be the most happiest person if we can actually confirm that it is the MH370, then we can move all (search) assets from the South China Sea to the Strait of Malacca," he told reporters. Until then, he said, the international search effort would continue expanding east and west from the plane's last confirmed location.
A Malaysian official said it had now been established with a "more than 50 percent" degree of certainty that military radar had picked up the missing plane.
POLICE QUESTION FAMILY
The focus of a probe into the plane's disappearance could be turning to the flight crew or passengers with aviation experience after sources with knowledge of the Malaysian investigation told Reuters they increasingly suspect foul play.
Radar evidence suggests it was diverted hundreds of miles off course, the sources said, an action that could only have been taken deliberately, either by flying the jet manually or by programming the auto-pilot.
Investigators were still looking at "four or five" possibilities, including a diversion that was intentional or under duress, or an explosion, Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on Friday. Police would search the pilot's home if necessary and were still investigating all passengers and crew, he said.
The captain of the flight, 53-year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was a flying enthusiast who spent his off days tinkering with a flight simulator of the plane that he had set up at home, current and former co-workers said. Malaysia Airlines officials did not believe he would have sabotaged the flight.
Fariq's relative confirmed police had come to question his family about his background this week.
The son of a high-ranking civil servant in Malaysia's central Selangor state near Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Fariq was often seen attending prayers at a mosque near his family home, family and friends said.
"I haven't stopped praying to Allah in hope that my grandson and the other passengers are safe," Fariq's grandmother, Halimah Abdul Rahman, 84, told media in the north-eastern Malaysian state of Kelantan from where the family hails. "He is a good person, respectful to elders and religious."
Roos said she assumed passengers must be allowed to fly in the cockpit in 2011 and would not have done so if she had known it was against regulations.
"I thought that they were highly skilled and highly competent and since they were doing it that it was allowed," Roos told Reuters. "I want to make it clear, at no point did I feel we were in danger or that they were acting irresponsibly."
Former and current Malaysia Airlines flight personnel said inviting passengers into the cockpit was rare, while smoking in the cockpit was frowned upon, although it did happen.
They declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue and company policy.
"It is a very male atmosphere in the cockpit. He was probably trying to fit in," said a former air stewardess with Malaysia Airlines who declined to be identified. "It can be a high-pressure job. It is not easy."
Social media users who said they knew Fariq said his character was very different to one portrayed by the Australian news report.
"As a friend, I vehemently disagree (with) the allegations made by Ms Roos. The Fariq I know is soft spoken and quite shy," said a friend who goes by the twitter name @Herleena Pahlavy.
The flight's pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981 and had more than 18,000 hours of experience. His Facebook page showed an aviation enthusiast who flew remote-controlled aircraft, posting pictures of his collection, which included a lightweight twin-engine helicopter and an amphibious aircraft.