US theory someone diverted missing plane
Artist's rendering of an Imnarsat satellite. Photo: Imnarsat

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."

MORE TO COME

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.

Piracy and pilot suicide are among the scenarios under study as investigators grow increasingly certain the missing Malaysia Airlines jet changed course and headed west after its last radio contact with air traffic controllers.

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.

A US Navy official said the destroyer USS Kidd was being sent to the Indian Ocean -- on the opposite side of the Malaysian peninsula from where contact was lost -- to investigate. Photo: Reuters

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.

But it offers the first real clues as to the fate of Flight MH370, which officials increasingly believe was deliberately diverted off its scheduled course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

PIRACY THEORY PROBED

Investigators are examining the possibility the disappearance the jet with 239 people on board was "an act of piracy", a US official says.

The official, who wasn't authorised to speak publicly, told AP news agency on Friday 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.

Another communications system on the plane continued to "ping" a satellite for about four hours after contact was lost with the Boeing 777 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing - an indication the plane may have continued to fly on for hours.

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 on Friday.

A pilot of a Royal Malaysian Air Force CN-235 aircraft shows a map during a search and rescue operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane over the waters at Malacca straits. Photo: AP.

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.

NO EVIDENCE OF PILOT WRONGDOING

At this point, there is no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of the two pilots, though Malaysian police have said they are looking at their psychological background, their family life and connections.

Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, have both been described as respectable, community-minded men.

Fariq Abdul Hamid and Zaharie Ahmad Shah, pilots of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Photos: Facebook

Zaharie 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.

Fariq was contemplating marriage after having just graduated to the cockpit of a Boeing 777. He has drawn the greatest scrutiny after the revelation that in 2011, he and another pilot invited two women boarding their aircraft to sit in the cockpit for a flight from Phuket, Thailand, to Kuala Lumpur.

Mike Glynn, a committee member of the Australian and International Pilots Association, said he considers pilot suicide to be the most likely explanation for the disappearance, as was suspected in a SilkAir crash during a flight from Singapore to Jakarta in 1997 and an EgyptAir flight in 1999.

“A pilot rather than a hijacker is more likely to be able to switch off the communications equipment,” Glynn said. “The last thing that I, as a pilot, want is suspicion to fall on the crew, but it’s happened twice before.”

Glynn said a pilot may have sought to fly the plane into the Indian Ocean to reduce the chances of recovering data recorders, and to conceal the cause of the disaster.


MALAYSIA MINISTER CONFIRMS JET SEARCH AREA EXPANDED

Malaysia confirmed Friday that the search for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane had been expanded into the Indian Ocean, but declined to comment on US reports that the jet had flown for hours after going missing.

"The aircraft is still missing, and the search area is expanding," said Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.

"Together with our international partners, we are pushing further east into the South China Sea and further into the Indian Ocean," he added.

Stressing that he could offer no new information on what happened to Flight MH370 which disappeared last Saturday, Hishammuddin refused to address US media reports, citing unidentified US officials, that the Boeing 777 had flown for an additional four or five hours after vanishing from civilian radar.

Investigators searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 reportedly now fear the aircraft is at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Photo: AFP.

"We do not want to be drawn into specific remarks that unnamed officials have reportedly made in the media," he said.

The US reports were based on information that the plane's communication system continued to "ping" a satellite for up to four hours after it disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

A US Navy official said the destroyer USS Kidd was being sent to the Indian Ocean -- on the opposite side of the Malaysian peninsula from where contact was lost -- to investigate.

But Hishammuddin insisted that the main reason for widening the search field was the failure to locate the plane in the areas searched so far.

"A normal investigation becomes narrower with time," he said.

"But this is not a normal investigation. In this case, the information we have forces us to look further and further afield."

ANGRY RELATIVES CLING TO HIJACK HOPE

Relatives of Chinese passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 still clung to hopes Friday that the aircraft might have been hijacked and their loved ones could somehow still be alive.

Emotions ran high in Beijing as the relatives met airline officials and demanded answers from Malaysian military and search-and-rescue officials about the missing plane.

The Beijing-bound flight from Kuala Lumpur disappeared off radar last Saturday with 239 people aboard -- 153 of them Chinese -- and multinational efforts have failed to find any remains.

"We want to know if there is any possibility that it has been hijacked, which is now what we all hope for most," said one woman.

Relatives of Chinese passengers aboard missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 leave from a room at a hotel in Beijing, China, Friday, March 14, 2014. A Malaysia Airlines plane sent signals to a satellite for four hours after the aircraft went missing, an indication that it was still flying for hundreds of miles or more, a U.S. official briefed on the search said Thursday. Photo: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

Her relatives had travelled to the Malaysian capital to be closer to the search operation but were not receiving satisfactory updates from the airline, she said.

Malaysian radar data indicated that the plane may have inexplicably started to turn back, which could lend credence to a scenario involving a cockpit takeover.

As relatives pursued this theory, Malaysia Airlines commercial director Hugh Dunleavy was pressed on which direction the plane took soon after taking off and whether the flight had veered from its normal altitude.

"It has been reported that the flight was travelling at 9,000 metres (29,500 feet), when it should have been travelling at 10,000 metres, which suggests that it was turning back," said one relative.

"We have not received any information that it turned back at all," said one of Dunleavy's colleagues at the airline's Kuala Lumpur headquarters over a telephone loudspeaker that was set up in the conference room.

Dunleavy himself responded: "The altitude of the aircraft when it was in cruise mode was 35,000 feet (10,600 metres). And just for clarification, that was the planned flight path level."

AGONISING WAIT

A support staff worker who has spoken to dozens of relatives told AFP: "There are a lot of conspiracy theories flying around in that room."

Dunleavy said the company would attempt to meet relatives' demands to meet Malaysian military officials.

But another woman responded furiously, saying: "You are always delaying, always delaying, we have waited so long for you to answer our questions."

The focus in the jet search has expanded into the Indian Ocean from an initial hunt in the South China Sea and adjacent Gulf of Thailand, where known radar contact with the plane ended.

About 300 relatives were crammed into a room -- more commonly used for weddings -- at a hotel where the airline was providing regular updates.

Some relatives interrupted their own questions halfway through, bursting out sobbing, while others stayed silent, occasionally staring at the mobile phones frantically seeking news updates. Many simply sat head bowed, linking arms with a nearby relative.

A flustered man whose 57-year-old mother had been on board the flight said all the relatives were "impatient" with the lack of information.

"I am sitting in front of the television and using my mobile phone to search for the latest news on the Internet," he said.

Yet a man surnamed Gao found hope despite the enormous stretch of sea to be searched.

"We are racing against time, if the search area is increased soon, then our family members' chances of survival will rise," he said, clasping his hands together as he spoke passionately.

"We are asking more nations to get involved in the rescue of this unparallelled catastrophe."

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