A missing Malaysian airliner was apparently deliberately diverted and flown for hours after vanishing from radar, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said yesterday, stopping short of confirming a hijack, but taking the “excruciating” jet drama into uncharted new territory.
Najib said investigators believed “with a high degree of certainty” that Malaysia Airlines flight MH370’s communications systems, including its transponders, were manually switched off.
He said the plane also veered westward in a fashion “consistent with deliberate action” after dropping off primary radar.
However, a grave-looking Najib told a highly anticipated press conference watched around the globe that he could not confirm rising suspicions that the plane had been forcibly taken over.
“Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear: We are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate from its original flight path,” he said.
“We realize this is an excruciating time for the families of those on board,” Najib said.
He did not take questions.
The investigation data appeared to cast aside a host of theories attempting to explain the plane’s disappearance, which has transfixed the world and left the families of the 239 passengers and crew distraught, enraged and baying for information that authorities have not been able to provide.
Previous theories swirling around MH370 included a sudden mid-air explosion, catastrophic equipment or structural failure, or a crash into the South China Sea.
At the same time, the announcement opened a whole new avenue of speculation including an attempted Sept. 11, 2001-style attack, enhancing the intrigue surrounding one of the biggest enigmas in modern aviation history.
Final satellite communication with the Boeing 777, scheduled to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, came more than six and a half hours after it vanished from civilian radar at 1:30am on Saturday last week, Najib said.
That is around the time Malaysia Airlines has said the plane would have run out of fuel.
Najib said investigators had concluded the plane was indeed diverted to the west from its original flight path and as a result search operations in the South China Sea were being called off.
However, the new search zone is impossibly large — Najib said the plane could be anywhere from Kazakhstan to the southern Indian Ocean.
Earlier, a senior Malaysian military official said that investigators believe the plane was commandeered by a “skilled, competent and current pilot” who knew how to avoid radar.
As the search for the plane continues, investigators will focus on who would have diverted it and why.
It could also bring new attention on the pilots, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27.
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