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Asia-pacific

Malaysian official says missing plane hijacked

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-15

A investigation into the missing flight MH370 has concluded that one or more people with flying experience switched off communications devices and steered it off-course in what a Malaysian government official called a ‘hijack’ on Saturday.

No motive has been established and no demands have been made known, and it is not yet clear where

the plane was taken

, the government official told AP. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief the media, said that hijacking was no longer a theory. “It is conclusive,” he said.

He said evidence that led to the conclusion were signs that the plane’s communications were switched off deliberately, data about the flight path and indications the plane was steered in a way to avoid detection by radar.

The Boeing 777’s communication with the ground was severed just under one hour into the March 8 flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Malaysian officials had previously said radar data suggested it may have turned back toward and crossed over the Malaysian peninsula after setting out on a north-eastern path toward the Chinese capital.

Earlier, an American official told AP that investigators are examining the possibility of “human intervention” in the plane’s disappearance, adding it may have been “an act of piracy.” While other theories are still being examined, the US official said key evidence suggesting human intervention is that contact with the Boeing’s transponder stopped about a dozen minutes before a messaging system on the jet shut down. Such a gap would be unlikely in the case of an in-flight catastrophe.

The Malaysian official said only a skilled aviator could navigate the plane the way it was flown after its last confirmed location over the South China Sea. The official said it had been established with a “more than 50 percent” degree of certainty that military radar had picked up the missing plane after it dropped off civilian radar.

Motive unclear

Malaysian authorities are investigating the backgrounds of the two pilots and 12 crew members, as well the 227 passengers on board.

Some experts have said that pilot suicide may 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 massive international search effort began initially in the South China Sea where the plane’s transponders stopped transmitting. It has since been expanded onto the other side of the Malay peninsula up into the Andaman Sea and into the Indian Ocean.

The plane had enough fuel to fly for at least five hours after its last know location, meaning a vast swath of South and Southeast Asia would be within its reach. Investigators are analysing radar and satellite data from around the region to try and pinpoint its final location, something that will be vital to hopes of finding the aircraft.

Faint electronic signals sent to satellites from a missing Malaysian jetliner show it may have run out of fuel over the Indian Ocean, sources familiar with official assessments said on Saturday.

A source familiar with data the US government is receiving from the investigation told Reuters that the pulses sent to satellites were ambiguous and had been interpreted to provide two different analyses. A second theory is that the plane continued to fly to the northwest and headed over Indian territory.

But the source said that it was believed unlikely the plane would have flown for any length of time over India because the country has strong air defence and radar coverage and that should have allowed authorities there to see the plane and intercept it.

‘A needle in a haystack’

The disappearance of the Boeing 777 – one of the safest commercial jets in service – is shaping into one of the most baffling mysteries in aviation history.

It is extremely rare for a modern passenger aircraft to disappear once it has reached cruising altitude, as MH370 had. When that does happen, the debris from a crash is usually found close to its last known position relatively quickly.

In this case, 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 on both sides of peninsular Malaysia.

“A normal investigation becomes narrower with time ... as new information focuses the search, but this is not a normal investigation,” Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a news conference on Friday.

“In this case, the information has forced us to look further and further afield.” India has deployed ships, planes and helicopters from the remote, forested and mostly uninhabited Andaman and Nicobar Islands, at the juncture of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. “This operation is like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Harmeet Singh, spokesman for the armed forces in the islands.

Britain’s Inmarsat said “routine, automated signals” from MH370 were seen on its satellite network during the plane’s flight from Kuala Lumpur and had been shared with authorities, but gave no other details.

Vast search

If the jetliner did fly into the Indian Ocean, a vast expanse with depths of more than 7,000 metres (23,000 feet), the task faced by searchers would become dramatically more difficult. Winds and currents could shift any surface debris tens of nautical miles within hours.

“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),” William Marks, spokesman for the US Seventh Fleet, told Reuters.

The US Navy was sending an advanced P-8A Poseidon plane to help search the Strait of Malacca, a busy sealane separating the Malay peninsula from the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It had already deployed a Navy P-3 Orion aircraft to those waters.

The last sighting of the aircraft on civilian radar screens came shortly before 1.30 am last Saturday, less than an hour after take-off. It was flying across the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand on the eastern side of Malaysia towards Vietnam.

Malaysia’s air force chief said on Wednesday that an aircraft that could have been the missing plane was plotted on military radar at 2.15 am, 200 miles (320 km) northwest of Penang Island off Malaysia’s west coast.

This position marks the limit of Malaysia’s military radar in that part of the country, another source familiar with the investigation told Reuters.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS, AFP)

 

 

 

Date created : 2014-03-15

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