In the Malaysian government's first definitive comments on how Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 came to vanish March 8, Prime Minister Najib Razak said it was the result of "deliberate action."
By Gaurav Raghuvanshi Malaysian
Prime Minister Najib Razak at Saturday's news conference. Manan Vatsyayana/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—Malaysia’s prime minister said he believes that “deliberate action” caused the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. In the first definitive comments from the nation’s government on how the jet came to vanish March 8, Najib Razak said at a news conference Saturday that data relayed by the plane to a satellite has confirmed it turned from its original course.
He added that the last satellite communication from the plane was at 8:11 a.m. Malaysia time, well past the scheduled arrival time in Beijing. It had taken off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12:41 a.m. The Boeing 777-200 plane was carrying enough fuel to fly for eight hours, Malaysia Airlines had said earlier. Based on this new data, the aviation authorities of Malaysia and their counterparts in other countries have determined that the plane’s last satellite communication came from one of two corridors, Mr. Najib said: a northern one stretching approximately from the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan border to northern Thailand or a southern one stretching approximately from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.
Mr. Najib said that while hijacking has been raised as a possibility, “we are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate from its original flight path.” The prime minister’s comments appear to corroborate the analysis of U.S. investigators, which determined that one or more people on the plane deliberately changed its course and tried to mask its location. Authorities have “refocused” attention onto the crew and passengers, said Mr. Najib. While he said there is a “high degree of certainty” that the plane’s two communications systems were disabled, it remains unclear who might have taken that step and whether he or she was acting with others on the flight.
Physically disconnecting communications systems would require extremely detailed knowledge of the aircraft’s internal structure and systems, aviation officials say, likely putting the focus of the probe on the pilots and any passengers and crew members with aviation experience. Mr. Najib didn’t take questions from the reporters who packed the airport-hotel function room where he spoke. Search teams have been withdrawn from the South China Sea, the area from which the plane’s transponder, which relays identification signals to ground radar, sent its last signal. “Clearly, the search for MH370 has entered a new phase,” he said. As of Saturday, 43 ships and 58 aircraft from 14 countries are involved in the search, the prime minister said.
The latest revelations indicate that the search areas will be significantly expanded. “The Malaysian authorities have worked hand-in-hand with our international partners—including neighboring countries, the aviation authorities and a multinational search force—many of whom have been here on the ground since Sunday,” he said. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the country will adjust its search efforts based on the prime minister’s statement, but that it was seeking more detailed information from Malaysia. Beijing, which has deployed eight sea vessels, two aircraft and five helicopters to search in the South China Sea, has repeatedly pressed Malaysia to redouble its efforts, as Chinese officials have themselves come under criticism for inaction from the passengers’ family members.
“Time is life,” the ministry’s statement said. Families of Flight 370 passengers said they hope the prime minister’s speech means there is hope their loved ones are alive. A friend of Norli Akmar Hamid of Kuala Lumpur, who was headed to Beijing on her honeymoon, said, “At least we know that she was alive up to 8:11 am on March 8.” The friend, who asked not to be identified, added, “Previously I thought the plane crashed when it was lost from the radar. There is still hope.” A father of a Malaysian aircraft engineer on Flight 370 said after the prime minister’s remarks that he has hope, too. “The chances of finding the aircraft was brighter.
The situation is clearer,” Selamat Omar, the father of 29-year-old Mohamad Khairul Amri, said. Based on new satellite information, investigators suspect the plane’s Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or Acars, was disabled just before the aircraft reached the East coast of peninsular Malaysia. Shortly afterward, near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control, the transponder was switched off.
The plane then flew west back over peninsular Malaysia before turning northwest, Mr. Najib said, citing Royal Malaysian Air Force radar data, now confirmed by experts from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration of the U.S., and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch of the U.K. To refine the search, investigators are now calculating how far the aircraft could have flown after this last point of contact.
“As the two new corridors involve many countries, the relevant foreign embassies have been invited to a briefing on the new information today by the Malaysian Foreign Ministry and the technical experts,” the prime minister said. Malaysia Airlines has been informing the families of the passengers and crew of the new developments. It’s unlikely the aircraft went very far on the Thailand-Central Asia corridor, as flying over land without being detected by radar would be difficult, said Mikael Robertsson, the co-founder of Flightradar24, a website that allows amateurs to track planes.
“In theory, it’s possible it may have landed somewhere, but someone would have spotted it,” Mr. Robertsson told The Wall Street Journal. He added that a crash on land rather than into the sea was unlikely because the aircraft’s emergency beacon would have automatically flashed its location via satellite or radio.
The beacon’s signals are less easy to find if an aircraft crashes into the sea. –Celine Fernandez in Kuala Lumpur and Laurie Burkitt in Beijing contributed to this article. Write to Gaurav Raghuvanshi at firstname.lastname@example.org