An investigation into the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner is focusing more on a suspicion of foul play, as evidence suggests it was diverted hundreds of kilometers off course, sources familiar with the Malaysian probe said.
In a far more detailed description of military radar plotting than has been publicly revealed, two sources told Reuters an unidentified aircraft that investigators suspect was missing Flight MH370 appeared to be following a commonly used navigational route when it was last spotted early on Saturday, northwest of Malaysia.
That course — headed into the Andaman Sea and toward the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean — could only have been set deliberately, either by flying the Boeing 777-200ER jet manually or by programming the autopilot.
A third investigative source said inquiries were focusing more on the theory that someone who knew how to fly a plane deliberately diverted the flight hundreds of kilometers off its scheduled course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
“What we can say is we are looking at sabotage, with hijack still on the cards,” said the source, a senior Malaysian police official.
One of the most baffling mysteries in the history of modern aviation remains unsolved after nearly a week.
The latest radar evidence is consistent with the expansion of the search for the aircraft to the west of Malaysia, possibly as far as the Indian Ocean.
There has been no trace of the plane nor any sign of wreckage as the navies and military aircraft of more than a dozen countries scour the seas across Southeast Asia.
Malaysian Minister of Transport Hishammuddin Hussein said he could not confirm the last heading of the plane or if investigators were focusing on sabotage.
“A normal investigation becomes narrower with time ... as new information focuses the search, but this is not a normal investigation,” he told a news conference. “In this case, the information has forced us to look further and further afield.”
Investigators were still looking at “four or five” possibilities, including a diversion that was intentional or under duress, or an explosion, he said.
Police would search the pilot’s home if necessary and were still investigating all 239 passengers and crew on the plane, he added.
If the jetliner did stray into the Indian Ocean, a vast expanse with depths of more than 7,000m, the task faced by searchers would become dramatically more difficult. Winds and currents could shift any surface debris tens of nautical miles within hours, dramatically widening the search area with each passing day.
“Ships alone are not going to get you that coverage, helicopters are barely going to make a dent in it and only a few countries fly P-3s [long-range search aircraft],” US Seventh Fleet spokesman William Marks said. “So this massive expanse of water space will be the biggest challenge.”