Military personnel search for the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane over the South China Sea. Photo Reuters
Malaysia's military believes a jetliner missing for almost
four days turned and flew hundreds of kilometres to the west
after it last made contact with civilian air traffic control
off the country's east coast, a senior officer told Reuters.
In one of the most baffling mysteries in recent aviation
history, a massive search operation for the Malaysia Airlines
Boeing 777-200ER has so far found no trace of the aircraft or
the 239 passengers and crew.
Malaysian authorities have previously said flight MH370
disappeared about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur
for the Chinese capital Beijing.
"It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower
altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait," the senior
military officer, who has been briefed on investigations,
That would appear to rule out sudden catastrophic mechanical
failure, as it would mean the plane flew around 500 km
at least after its last contact with air traffic
control, although its transponder and other tracking systems
A non-military source familiar with the investigations said
the report was one of several theories and was being checked.
At the time it lost contact with civilian air traffic
control, the plane was roughly midway between Malaysia's east
coast town of Kota Bharu and the southern tip of Vietnam,
flying at 35,000 ft (10,670 metres).
The Strait of Malacca, one of the world's busiest shipping
channels, runs along Malaysia's west coast.
Malaysia's Berita Harian newspaper quoted air force chief
Rodzali Daud as saying the plane was last detected at 2.40
a.m. by military radar near the island of Pulau Perak at the
northern end of the Strait of Malacca. It was flying about
1,000 metres lower than its previous altitude, he was quoted
There was no word on what happened to the plane thereafter.
The effect of turning off the transponder is to make the
aircraft inert to secondary radar, so civil controllers
cannot identify it. Secondary radar interrogates the
transponder and gets information about the plane's identity,
speed and height.
It would however still be visible to primary radar, which is
used by militaries.
Police had earlier said they were investigating whether any
passengers or crew on the plane had personal or psychological
problems that might explain its disappearance, along with the
possibility of a hijack, sabotage or mechanical failure.
There was no distress signal or radio contact indicating a
problem and, in the absence of any wreckage or flight data,
police have been left trawling through passenger and crew
lists for potential leads.
"Maybe somebody on the flight has bought a huge sum of
insurance, who wants family to gain from it or somebody who
has owed somebody so much money, you know, we are looking at
all possibilities," Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar
told a news conference.
"We are looking very closely at the video footage taken at
the KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport), we are
studying the behavioural pattern of all the passengers."
The airline said it was taking seriously a report by a South
African woman who said the co-pilot of the missing plane had
invited her and a female travelling companion to sit in the
cockpit during a flight two years ago, in an apparent breach
"Malaysia Airlines has become aware of the allegations being
made against First Officer Fariq Ab Hamid which we take very
seriously. We are shocked by these allegations. We have not
been able to confirm the validity of the pictures and videos
of the alleged incident," the airline said.
The woman, Jonti Roos, said in an interview with Australia's
Channel Nine TV that she and her friend were invited to fly
in the cockpit by Hamid and the pilot between Phuket,
Thailand and Kuala Lumpur in December 2011. The TV channel
showed pictures of the four in the cockpit.
A huge search operation for the missing plane has been mostly
focused on the shallow waters of the Gulf of Thailand off
Malaysia's east coast, although the Strait of Malacca has
been included since Sunday.
Navy ships, military aircraft, helicopters, coastguard and
civilian vessels from 10 nations have criss-crossed the seas
off both coasts of Malaysia without success.
The fact that at least two passengers on board had used
stolen passports has raised suspicions of foul play. But
Southeast Asia is known as a hub for false documents that are
also used by smugglers, illegal migrants and asylum seekers.
Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble named the two men as
Iranians aged 18 and 29, who had entered Malaysia using their
real passports before using the stolen European documents to
board the Beijing-bound flight.
"The more information we get, the more we are inclined to
conclude it is not a terrorist incident," Noble said.
In Washington, the director of the Central Intelligence
Agency said intelligence officials could not rule out
terrorism as a factor. "You cannot discount any theory," CIA
Director John Brennan said.
Malaysian police chief Khalid said the younger man, who he
said was 19, appeared to be an illegal immigrant. His mother
was waiting for him in Frankfurt and had been in contact with
authorities, he said.
"We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist
group, and we believe he was trying to migrate to Germany,"
Asked if that meant he ruled out a hijack, Khalid said: "(We
are giving) same weightage to all (possibilities) until we
complete our investigations."
Both men entered Malaysia on Feb 28, at least one from
Phuket, in Thailand, eight days before boarding the flight to
Beijing, Malaysian immigration chief Aloyah Mamat told the
news conference. Both held onward reservations to Western
Police in Thailand, where the Italian and Austrian passports
were stolen and the tickets used by the two men were booked,
said they did not think they were linked to the disappearance
of the plane.
"We haven't ruled it out, but the weight of evidence we're
getting swings against the idea that these men are or were
involved in terrorism," Supachai Puikaewcome, chief of police
in the Thai resort city of Pattaya, told Reuters.
About two-thirds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew now
presumed to have died aboard the plane were Chinese. Other
nationalities included 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six
Australians, five Indians, four French and three Americans.
China has deployed 10 satellites using high-resolution earth
imaging capabilities, visible light imaging and other
technologies to "support and assist in the search and rescue
operations", the People's Liberation Army Daily said.
U.S. government officials from the National Transportation
Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration have
arrived in the region to provide "any necessary assistance"
with the investigation, White House spokesman Jay Carney said
The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records of any
commercial aircraft in service. Its only previous fatal crash
came on July 6 last year when Asiana Airlines Flight 214
struck a seawall on landing in San Francisco, killing three
U.S. planemaker Boeing has declined to comment beyond a brief
statement saying it was monitoring the situation.