has taken an interesting turn. Authorities now believe the missing Malaysian jetliner was deliberately diverted and continued flying for more than six hours after losing contact with the ground, meaning it could have gone as far northwest as Kazakhstan or into the southern Indian Ocean.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's statement confirmed days of mounting speculation that the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 to Beijing more than a week ago was not accidental. It refocused the investigation into the flight's crew and passengers and underlined the massive task for searchers who already have been scouring vast areas of ocean.
Earlier today, another Malaysian official said the plane had been hijacked, though he added that no motive had been established and no demands had been made known. Police drove into the residential compound where the missing plane's pilot lives in Kuala Lumpur, according to a guard and several local reporters who were barred from entering the complex.
Experts have previously said that whoever disabled the plane's communication systems and then flew the jet must have had a high degree of technical knowledge and flying experience. One possibility they have raised was that one of the pilots wanted to commit suicide.
The plane was carrying 239 people when it departed for an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing at 12:40 a.m. on March 8. Its communications with civilian air controllers were severed at about 1:20 a.m., and the jet went missing. Investigators now have a high degree of certainty that one of the plane's communications systems — the Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System — was disabled before the aircraft reached the east coast of Malaysia. Shortly afterward, someone on board then switched off the aircraft's transponder, which communicates with civilian air traffic controllers.
Najib is now confirming that Malaysian air force defense radar picked up traces of the plane turning back westward, crossing over Peninsular Malaysia into the northern stretches of the Strait of Malacca. Authorities previously had said this radar data could not be verified. Although the aircraft was flying virtually blind to air traffic controllers at this point, onboard equipment continued to send pings to satellites.
The prime minister said the last confirmed signal between the plane and a satellite came at 8:11 a.m. — 7 hours and 31 minutes after takeoff. Airline officials have said the plane had enough fuel to fly for up to about eight hours. Searching in the South China Sea, where the plane first lost contact, has ended, Najib said.
Two-thirds of the plane's 227 passengers were Chinese, and China's government has been under pressure to give relatives firm news of the plane's fate. In a stinging commentary, the Chinese government's Xinhua News Agency accused Malaysia of dragging its feet in releasing information. Information released by the Malaysian leader is "painfully belated," the commentary said. It said delays had resulted in wasted efforts and strained the nerves of relatives.
"Given today's technology, the delay smacks of either dereliction of duty or reluctance to share information in a full and timely manner," Xinhua said. "That would be intolerable."