A Malaysian official said investigators concluded the missing Malaysia Airlines flight was hijacked and steered off its original course, the AP reported late Friday evening.
After an unnamed Malaysian official told the AP the missing Malaysia Airlines flight was “hijacked,” the Malaysian Prime Minister pushed back on the report during a press conference, while confirming erratic actions on MH370 were “consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane.”
Speaking to reporters from Kuala Lumpur, Prime Minister Najib Razak said that “despite media reports that the plane has been hijacked, I wish to be clear: We are still investigating all possibilities.”
This departed sharply from the AP story, which reported a “[Malaysian] official said that hijacking was no longer a theory. ‘It is conclusive.'”
Among the most surprising revelations the Malaysian P.M. confirmed was that communication with the plane was last heard at 8:11 a.m. on the day the plane disappeared — seven hours later than previously thought. Razak also introduced two massive new search “corridors” — a northern corridor stretching from northern Thailand to the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and a southern corridor stretching from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.
“We have followed every credible lead,” Razak said. “Sometimes these leads have led nowhere. There has been intense speculation. We understand the desperate need for information on behalf of the families and those watching around the world.”
Within the last 24 hours, investigators had increasingly moved their focus toward the possibility of sabotage, either from a hijacker or rogue crew. But despite the Prime Minister’s pushback on speculation of hijacking, his brief statement offered mixed messaging that confirmed details previously reported appearing consistent with foul play.
Earlier on Friday, a senior U.S. official told The New York Times the aircraft made a number of erratic direction and altitude changes before it likely crashed in the Indian Ocean. And the deliberate shutdown of systems to track the airliner indicates the plane’s disappearance was more a “deliberate act” than an accident or pilot error.
On Thursday, sources speaking with ABC said they believed the data reporting system was shut down at 1:07 a.m., while the transponder — sending out location and altitude data — was shut down at 1:21 a.m. The 14-minute delay strongly indicated systems were purposely shut down rather than coming as the result of a malfunction or failure in some sort of catastrophic accident.
“An aircraft which was believed but not confirmed to be MH370 did indeed turn back,” Razak told reporters. “It then flew in a westerly direction back over Peninsular Malaysia before turning northwest. Up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage, these movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane.”
As a number of commercial pilots told NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Friday, with the exception of the transponder, which can be shut off at the flick of a switch, other onboard tracking systems are not as easy to disable.
“They said you’d have to go through big checklists, you’d have to possibly pull circuit breakers if you wanted to deactivate [all the communications equipment],” NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel said, citing interviews with pilots. “So, to do this, you’d have to have some degree of premeditation and a lot of knowledge of the aircraft.”
The prime minister’s statement confirmed a previous New York Times report, which cited a combination of satellites and military radar that was able to continue tracking the plane.
After falling off of civilian radar, radar signals from the Malaysian military appeared to show the Boeing 777 climbing above the plane’s maximum ceiling to 45,000 feet before it made a sharp turn toward the west. The data then shows another turn to the southwest and descent to 23,000 feet before it finally settled on a higher altitude and bearing toward the Indian Ocean.
“Today, based on raw satellite data which was obtained from the satellite data service provider, we can confirm that the aircraft shown in the primary radar data was flight MH370,” Razak added, noting that investigators from a number of agencies working independently concurred with that assessment.
Investigators, who widened their search area on Thursday to the Indian Ocean based on faint electronic “pings” of technical data from the flight, had since expanded into the Andaman Sea northwest of the Malay Peninsula, based on another “ping” picked up five or six times by a satellite before it was completely lost, Reuters reports.
“Clearly the search for MH370 has entered a new phase,” Razak said. “We hope this new information brings us one step closer to finding the plane.”
This post has been updated.
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