Washington: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 made drastic changes in altitude and direction after disappearing from civilian radar, U.S. officials told on Friday, raising questions for investigators about just who was at the controls of the commercial jetliner that went missing one week ago with 239 people on board. The more the United States learns about the flight’s pattern, “the more difficult to write off” the idea that some type of human intervention was involved, one of the officials familiar with the investigation said. The revelation comes has learned that a classified analysis of electronic and satellite data suggests the flight likely crashed either in the Bay of Bengal or elsewhere in the Indian Ocean.
The analysis conducted by the United States and Malaysian governments may have narrowed the search area for the jetliner that vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, leaving little trace of where it went or why. The analysis used radar data and satellite pings to calculate that the plane diverted to the west, across the Malayan peninsula, and then either flew in a northwest direction toward the Bay of Bengal or southwest into the Indian Ocean. The theory builds on earlier revelations by U.S. officials that an automated reporting system on the airliner was pinging satellites for up to five hours after its last reported contact with air traffic controllers. Inmarsat, a satellite communications company, confirmed to that automated signals were registered on its network.
Taken together, the data point toward speculation of a dark scenario in which someone took control of the plane for some unknown purpose, perhaps terrorism. That theory is buoyed by word from a senior U.S. official familiar with the investigation that the Malaysia Airlines plane made several significant altitude changes and altered its course more than once after losing contact with flight towers. The jetliner was flying “a strange path,” the official said on condition of anonymity. The details of the radar readings were first reported by The New York Times on Friday. Malaysian military radar showed the plane climbing to 45,000 feet soon after disappearing from civilian radar screens and then dropping to 23,000 feet before climbing again, the official said.
The question of what happened to the jetliner has turned into one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history, befuddling industry experts and government officials. Suggestions have ranged from a catastrophic explosion to sabotage to hijacking to pilot suicide. The sabotage theory got a boost Friday from The Wall Street Journal, which reported investigators increasingly suspect the plane’s communications systems were manually switched off. Investigators are trying to determine whether the satellite communications system that pinged for hours stopped functioning because “something catastrophic happened or someone switched off” the system, the newspaper reported, citing an unnamed person familiar with the jet’s last known position. The pings stopped at a point over the Indian Ocean, while the jetliner was flying at a normal cruising altitude, according to the newspaper.