The Slatest

Search For Missing Jetliner Expands, Attention Shifts to “Sabotage” and Possible Hijacking

A crew member uses binoculars onboard a Malaysian Air Force CN235 aircraft during a search and rescue (SAR) operation to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 plane over the Strait of Malacca on March 14, 2014

Photo by Mohd Rasfan/Getty Images

On the seventh day of the search for flight MH370 attention is increasingly shifting to the Indian Ocean, something that suggests that the working theory is now that the missing flight did indeed travel hundreds if not thousands of miles off course after its last known location on the opposite side of the Malaysian peninsula.

The bigger potential development, however, comes by way of Reuters, which with the help of some unnamed sources is reporting that new evidence suggests that the flight was deliberately taken off course by whoever was at the controls and may have even been hijacked (emphasis mine):

Analysis of the Malaysia data suggests the plane, with 239 people on board, diverted from its intended northeast route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and flew west instead, using airline flight corridors normally employed for routes to the Middle East and Europe, said sources familiar with investigations into the Boeing 777’s disappearance.

Two sources said an unidentified aircraft that investigators believe was Flight MH370 was following a route between navigational waypoints when it was last plotted on military radar off the country’s northwest coast. This indicates that it was either being flown by the pilots or someone with knowledge of those waypoints, the sources said. …

A third source familiar with the investigation said inquiries were focusing increasingly on the theory that someone who knew how to fly a plane deliberately diverted the flight. “What we can say is we are looking at sabotage, with hijack still on the cards,” said that source, a senior Malaysian police official.

According to Reuters sources, the most recent data now suggests that MH370’s actual flight path was taking it toward India’s Andaman Islands, a chain of isles between the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. And, as you can see from the map below, the plane appears to have been making calculated turns along the way suggesting whoever was at the controls knew what they were doing: (Reuters has a more detailed description of the waypoints here.)

Malaysian authorities have said no such thing on the record, but that is doing little to quell the speculation, particularly given officials who have been briefing the media on the ground seem to either be keeping much of the information they do have under wraps or are otherwise a step behind what is going on behind the scenes. On Thursday, they originally denied a Wall Street Journal report that suggested that the plane continued to transmit data for roughly four hours after it vanished from civilian radar—the report that first suggested the plane possibly traveled as many as 2,200 nautical miles without being noticed—before later admitting that the search was expanding to include the Indian Ocean.

Still, Malaysian officials have largely downplayed the new developments by saying that they are expanding the area being searched less because of new information and more because past searches centered around where the plane seemingly vanished turned up nothing. “A normal investigation becomes narrower with time,” said Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s defense minister and acting transport minister. “But this is not a normal investigation. We’re looking further and further afield.”

Adding to speculation of foul play was an ABC News report from last night that suggested that U.S. officials now believe that two communications systems aboard the aircraft shut down at separate times, something that would suggest they were turned off deliberately as opposed to as a result of some sort of catastrophic failure.

For those wondering how one would go about actually stealing a 777, Slate’s Jeff Wise has you covered. 

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

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This post has been updated.