INVESTIGATORS have 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 this afternoon.
The claim comes after seven days of fruitless searches for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, and after revelations suggesting the plane made several course corrections after the cockpit’s last known contact with air traffic control.
The official, who is involved in the investigation, told the Associated Press no motive has been established and no demands have been made known, and it is not yet clear where the plane was taken. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief the media.
The official said that hijacking was no longer a theory. “It is conclusive,’’ he added.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak is expected to brief the media later today.
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.’’
The Boeing 777’s communication with the ground was severed under one hour into its flight on 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.
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, and that it appeared to have been steered to avoid radar detection. The official said it had been established with a “more than 50 percent’’ degree of certainty that military radar had picked up the missing plane after it dropped off civilian radar.
The New York Times reported that radar signals recorded by the Malaysian military appear to show the plane ascending to 45,000 feet and making a sharp turn to the right not long after it disappeared from civilian radar.
Forty-five thousand feet is above the approved altitude limit for a Boeing 777-200.
The information comes from “a preliminary assessment by a person familiar with the data”, the paper said.
The same data suggests the plane descended to 23,000 feet as it approached the Malaysian island of Penang, but then re-ascended and flew northwest over the Straits of Malacca.
CNN is reporting that authorities think the plane may have gone in one of two directions after it passed through the Straits of Malacca: either northwest, towards the Bay of Bengal and the coast of India, or southwest, out into the expanse of the Indian Ocean.
The reports are the strongest suggestion yet that the plane was being piloted after the last known contact was made with air traffic control, at 1.07am, when the plane was flying over the Gulf of Thailand.
The Wall Street Journal earlier today quoted aviation industry experts who said it was looking like the plane was the victim of sabotage, based partly on two of the disabling of the plane’s internal systems.
The paper quoted Richard Healing, a former member of the US National Transportation Safety Board, who said: “Increasingly, it seems to be heading into the criminal arena”.
“The emphasis is on determining if a hijacker or crew member diverted the plane,” he said.
Waiting for answers … distraught relatives of Chinese passengers aboard missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 after families were briefed on rescue and searching efforts in Beijing. Picture: AP Source: AP
The Star Malaysia reported that security checks are being made by intelligence agencies into the profiles of the crew and the passengers.
Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said Malaysia was sharing information with foreign agencies and confirmed that agents were examing the activities and backgrounds of the pilots and crew. further checks are also being made on all passengers.
“I cannot confirm that there was no hijacking,” he said overnight.
Investigators are examining the possibility the plane’s disappearance was “an act of piracy”, another US official said yesterday.
The official, who wasn’t authorised to speak publicly, told AP news agency overnight while other theories are still being looked at key evidence for “human intervention” in the plane’s disappearance is that contact with its transponder stopped about a dozen minutes before a messaging system quit.
The official said it was also possible the plane may have landed somewhere.
It has been suggested the plane may have continued to fly on for around four hours after it lost contact with ground control.
Meanwhile a US naval ship and surveillance plane are heading to the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal to search for the airliner.
A P-8 Poseidon aircraft and a guided missile destroyer, the USS Kidd, were due to aid the international hunt for the jet as the search effort extended further west, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said overnight.
The Kidd was preparing to search the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, he said.
“The P-8 will be searching a much larger search area … the southern portion of the Bay of Bengal and the northern portion of the Indian Ocean”.
The Boeing 777 vanished off radar early last Saturday over the South China Sea.
Its fate has vexed investigators and Malaysia authorities have dramatically expanded the scope of the search.
The hunt initially focused on the South China Sea east of Malaysia — along the jet’s intended route.
But Malaysia’s government is now looking at a vast area, with 13 countries involved.
A team from the UK was also due to arrive in Kuala Lumpur last night to help the investigation which today enters its eighth day.
The team is also investigating four or five possibilities for how the transponders on the Malaysian Airlines 777-200 came to be turned off, including intentionally or under duress.
Malaysia’s Defence Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said last night that the search zone continues to be in two areas — the South China Sea and the Andaman Sea — because authorities are still no clearer on where the plane disappeared.
A Reuters report, which cited Malaysian military radar data, claimed overnight that a plane believed to be MH370 was “deliberately flown” towards India’s Andaman Islands, a chain of isles between the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal.
Mr. Hussein said that it was still not certain that an aircraft tracked on military radar near Penang, in the Malacca Strait, and heading upwards to the Andaman Sea, was actually MH370.
He said that the team was currently working with US experts and gleaning data from US satellites as well as sharing sensitive data which would not normally be shared among countries.