A man leaves a message of support and hope for passengers
of the missing airliner at the Kuala Lumpur International
Airport. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
A missing Malaysian airliner appears to have been
deliberately steered off course after someone on board shut
down its communications, Prime Minister Najib Razak says.
A week after the disappearance of flight MH370, Najib said
its last transmission of satellite data came nearly seven
hours after it disappeared from radar screens.
But the new satellite data gave no precise location, and the
plane's altered course could have taken it anywhere from
central Asia to the southern Indian Ocean, he said.
Minutes after the Malaysian leader outlined investigators'
latest findings, police began searching the house of the
aircraft's 53-year-old captain for any evidence that he could
have been involved in foul play.
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER vanished en route from
Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in the early hours of March 8 with
239 passengers and crew aboard.
Najib, giving his first statement at a news conference since
then, confirmed reports that investigators believe somebody
cut off the plane's communications reporting system, switched
off its transponder and steered it west, far from its
"In view of this latest development the Malaysian authorities
have refocused their investigation into the crew and
passengers on board," he said.
"Despite media reports the plane was hijacked, I wish to be
very clear, we are still investigating all possibilities as
to what caused MH370 to deviate."
Search operations by navies and aircraft from more than a
dozen nations were immediately called off in the Gulf of
Thailand and the South China Sea to the east of Malaysia,
where the plane dropped off civilian air traffic control
screens at 1:22 a.m. last Saturday (1722 GMT on Friday).
Malaysia said new data showed the last communication between
the missing plane and satellites at 8:11 a.m. (0011 GMT),
almost seven hours after it turned back and crossed the Malay
The data did not show whether the plane was still flying or
its location at that time, presenting searchers with a
daunting array of possible last locations. Seven hours' more
flying time would likely have taken it to the limit of its
Najib said the plane's final communication with satellites
placed it somewhere in one of two corridors: a northern arc
stretching from northern Thailand to the border of Kazakhstan
and Turkmenistan, or a southern one stretching from Indonesia
to the vast southern Indian Ocean.
"Clearly, the search for MH370 has entered a new phase," said
Najib, whose government has come under criticism for its slow
release of information surrounding one of the most baffling
mysteries in aviation history.
India stepped up its search in two areas at the request of
Malaysia - one around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and
another further west across the Bay of Bengal - but found no
evidence that would indicate that the plane had come down in
its waters, the Defence Ministry said.
A senior military official in Port Blair, capital of the
archipelago, said Indian aircraft had combed waters
stretching up to 300 nautical miles (550 km) offshore and
overflown all 572 islands in the chain but "we don't have
anything so far".
India's Eastern Naval Command was investigating a separate
rectangular 'box' 15 km wide by 600 km long, some 900 km east
of Port Blair, but had found nothing.
About two-thirds of the passengers on board the flight were
Chinese, and Beijing has been showing increasing impatience
with the speed and coordination of the Malaysian search
On Saturday, China said it had demanded that Malaysia keep
providing more thorough and accurate information, and added
that it was sending a technical team to Malaysia to help with
China's Xinhua state news agency said in a commentary that
Najib's disclosure of the new details was "painfully
"And due to the absence - or at least lack - of timely
authoritative information, massive efforts have been
squandered, and numerous rumours have been spawned,
repeatedly racking the nerves of the awaiting families," it
The fate of flight MH370 has been shrouded in mystery since
it disappeared off Malaysia's east coast less than an hour
into its scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on
But investigators have increasingly discounted the
possibility of an accident due to the deliberate way it was
diverted and had its communications switched off.
Investigative sources told Reuters on Friday they believed
the plane was following a commonly used navigational route
when it was last spotted early on Saturday, northwest of
Their suspicion has hardened that it was flown off-course by
the pilot or co-pilot, or someone else with detailed
knowledge of how to fly and navigate a large commercial
No details have emerged of any passengers or crew with
militant links or psychological problems that could explain a
motive for sabotaging the flight.
The experienced captain, 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.
The 27-year-old co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, was religious
and serious about his career, family and friends said,
countering news reports suggesting he was a cockpit Romeo who
was reckless on the job.
As the search enters its second week, several governments are
using imagery satellites - platforms that take high
definition photos - while data from private sector
communications satellites is also being examined. China alone
says it has deployed 10 satellites.
"The area is enormous. Finding anything rapidly is going to
be very difficult," said Marc Pircher, director of the French
space centre in Toulouse. "The area and scale of the task is
such that 99 percent of what you are getting are false
The corridors given by Najib represent a satellite track,
which appears as an arc on a map. The plane did not
necessarily follow the corridor, but was at some point along
its path at the moment the signal was sent.
Officials at Kazakhstan's state air navigation service were
not available for comment while in Turkmenistan, state
aviation officials referred queries to the Foreign Ministry.
Afghanistan's ministry of aviation said its controllers were
certain the plane had not crossed their airspace. A spokesman
for Pakistan's civilian airspace authority said: "We have not
received any requests from Malaysia authorities for help, nor
have we any information on the plane's whereabouts."
Earlier, a source familiar with official U.S. assessments of
electronic signals sent to geostationary satellites operated
by Britain's Inmarsat said it appeared most likely the plane
had turned south over the Indian Ocean, where it would
presumably have run out of fuel and crashed into the sea.
If so, just finding the plane - let alone recovering the
"black box" data and cockpit voice recorders that hold the
key to the mystery - would be a huge challenge.
The Indian Ocean has an average depth of more than 12,000
feet, or two miles (3.5 km). This is deeper than the
Atlantic, where it took two years to locate wreckage on the
seabed from an Air France plane that vanished in 2009, even
though floating debris quickly gave an indication of the area
of the crash.
Any debris would have been widely dispersed by Indian Ocean
currents in the week since the plane disappeared.
"We have many radar systems operating in the area, but
nothing was picked up," Rear Admiral Sudhir Pillai, Chief of
Staff of India's Andamans and Nicobar Command, told Reuters.
"It is possible that the military radars were switched off as
we operate on an as-required basis. So perhaps secondary
radars were operating, which may not have the required range
to detect a flight at an altitude of 35,000 feet."
The other interpretation was that the aircraft continued to
fly to the northwest and headed over Indian territory.
The source said it was believed unlikely the plane had flown
for any length of time over India because it has strong air
defence and radar coverage that should have allowed
authorities to see the plane and intercept it.
It is extremely rare for a modern passenger aircraft to
disappear once it has reached cruising altitude, as MH370
had. When that does happen, the debris from a crash is
usually found relatively quickly, close to its last known
In this case, there has been no trace of the plane, nor any
sign of wreckage.
The maximum range of the Boeing 777-200ER is 7,725 nautical
miles or 14,305 km. It is not clear how much fuel the
aircraft was carrying, though it would have been enough to
reach its scheduled destination, Beijing, a flight of five
hours and 50 minutes, plus some reserve.