KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A Malaysian government official said today that investigators have concluded that one of the pilots or someone else with flying experience hijacked the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.
The official, who is involved in the investigation, says no motive has been established, and it is not yet clear where the plane was taken. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
The official said that hijacking was no longer a theory. “It is conclusive.”
The Boeing 777’s communication with the ground was severed under one hour into a flight March 8 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Malaysian officials have said radar data suggest it may have turned back and crossed back over the Malaysian peninsula westward, after setting out toward the Chinese capital.
The latest evidence suggests that the plane didn’t experience a catastrophic incident over the South China Sea, as was initially suspected.
Adding to the speculation that someone was flying the jet, The New York Times on Friday quoted sources familiar with the investigation as saying the plane experienced significant changes in altitude after it lost contact with ground control, and altered its course more than once.
A U.S. official earlier said in an interview that investigators are examining the possibility of “human intervention” in the plane’s disappearance, adding that it may have been “an act of piracy.”
The official, who wasn’t authorized to speak to the media and spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was possible that the plane may have landed somewhere. The official later said there was no solid information on who might have been involved.
While other theories are still being examined, the official said key evidence suggesting human intervention is that contact with the Boeing 777’s transponder stopped about a dozen minutes before a messaging system on the jet quit. Such a gap would be unlikely in the case of an in-flight catastrophe.
A Malaysian official, who declined to be identified because he is not authorized to brief the media, 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.
Malaysia’s acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, earlier said the country had yet to determine what happened to the plane after it ceased communicating with ground control about 40 minutes into the flight to Beijing on March 8 with 239 people aboard. He said investigators were still trying to establish that military radar records of a blip moving west across the Malay Peninsula into the Strait of Malacca showed Flight MH370.
“I will be the most happiest person if we can actually confirm that it is the MH370, then we can move all [search] assets from the South China Sea to the Strait of Malacca,” he told reporters. Until then, he said, the international search effort would continue expanding east and west from the plane’s last confirmed location.
Though some investigators are now convinced that “human intervention” caused the disappearance, U.S. officials told the White House at a briefing Friday that they have “run all the traps” and come up with no good information on who might be involved, according to an official familiar with the meeting, which was attended by State and Defense Department officials, the CIA, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, among others.
“I don’t think there is any consensus on a theory,” the official said. “They’re not hearing anything in their surveillance that would indicate that this is part of a plot.”
Another U.S. official said investigators looking for the plane have run out of clues except for a type of satellite data that has never been used before to find a missing plane, and is very inexact.
The data consists of attempts by an Inmarsat satellite to identify a broad area where the plane might be, in case a messaging system aboard the plane should need to connect with the satellite, said the official.
The official compared the location attempts, called a “handshake,” to someone driving around with their cell phone not in use. As the phone passes from the range of one cell phone tower to another, the towers note that the phone is in range in case messages need to be sent.
In the case of the Malaysian plane, there were successful attempts by the satellite to roughly locate the Boeing 777 about once an hour over four to five hours, the official said. “This is all brand new to us,” the official said. “We’ve never had to use satellite handshaking as the best possible source of information.”
The handshake does not transmit any data on the plane’s altitude, airspeed or other information that might help in locating it, the official said. Instead, searchers are trying to use the handshakes to triangulate the general area where the plane was known to have been at the last satellite check, the official said.
The official confirmed prior reports that following the loss of contact with the plane’s transponder, the plane turned west.
Scores of aircraft and ships from 12 nations are involved in the search, which reaches into the eastern stretches of the South China Sea and on the western side of the Malay Peninsula, northwest into the Andaman Sea and the Indian Ocean.