Police search pilot's home as missing jet mystery deepens
THE hunt for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 has taken a dramatic turn after the country's prime minister confirmed that communications on board had been deliberately disabled and the jet had flown off course for more than six hours after it lost contact with air traffic control.
The revelation came as police raided the home of the missing flight's pilot, sparking intense speculation that someone on the plane was responsible for its disappearance or hijack.
No group has claimed responsibility, but the Malaysian authorities confirmed that foul play was now the most likely theory to explain the plane's fate.
The Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, said his country's air force defence radar picked up traces of the plane turning back westward, crossing over Peninsular Malaysia, before heading into the northern stretches of the Strait of Malacca.
He said investigators had a "high degree of certainty" that the plane's Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System (Acars) had been disabled before the aircraft reached the east coast of Malaysia. Soon after, someone on board switched off the aircraft's transponder, the device that communicates the plane's location to the civilian air traffic controllers.
"These movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane," Najib said. "In view of this, the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers."
Tracing what happened to the Boeing 777, which disappeared from civilian radar last Saturday with 239 passengers and crew on board as it flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, has now become an international effort. Fourteen countries, 43 ships and 58 aircraft are already involved in the search, which is expanding rapidly as information on the plane's potential routes emerges.
Yesterday the UK-based satellite operator, Inmarsat, whose technology has helped to identify possible routes taken by the plane, confirmed it was now working with the UK authorities in the search.
The Malaysian authorities said satellite data indicated that the aircraft had last made contact with a satellite more than seven hours after it took off. They said the signals had indicated that it was flown along one of two standard flight corridors: either north, towards an area stretching from northern Thailand to Kazakhstan, or south, towards airspace over Indonesia, out towards the southern Indian Ocean.
A source familiar with US assessments of the plane's electronic signals said the most likely explanation was that it had turned south over the Indian Ocean, where it is likely to have run out of fuel and crashed into the sea.
There are claims that Malaysian military radar last identified the plane in the Strait of Malacca, 1,000 miles west of Perth in Australia.
There were reports yesterday that after Malaysia air traffic control had recognised it had lost the flight, it had repeatedly tried to contact the jet for more than two hours before issuing a red alert.
If the plane continued north towards Central Asia, it is unclear how it would have avoided detection by Indian air control or by other radars in the vicinity, including the US military airbase in Bagram, Afghanistan.
Investigators are combing passenger and crew records but American authorities have said they do not believe that anyone on board had links to extremist groups.
Experts 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.
Yesterday, police began searching 53-year-old captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah's home on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. It was not clear if the home of co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, was also being investigated.