The missing Malaysian jet’s communications systems were “deliberately” turned off, confirms the government – but was it a pilot or a passenger? And who flew it seven hours in the wrong direction?
Malaysian police announced they are searching the home of the pilot of the missing jet, as the country’s prime minister declared that the disappearance of the plane looked like “a deliberate action” that required expert knowledge.
Speaking on Saturday morning Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed reports from earlier this week that the plane kept flying after it dropped out of contact with air control.
He said that jet MH730 appeared to have changed direction just after the transponder communications – that sent location data to air traffic control – were cut at 1.20am on Saturday 8 March. Both those actions appear to have been deliberate.
Just after the plane changed course it sent information recording the change of course through a routine engine update. Known as Acars – this second communications system sent information about the plane’s engine including its location to the engine manufacturers. After that update was received, Acars was disabled too.
‘These movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane’ Prime Minister Razak
Prime Minister Razak told journalists:
“Based on new satellite communication, we can say with a high degree of certainty, that the aircraft communications addressing and reporting system – Acars – was disabled, just before the aircraft reached the east coast of the peninsula of Malaysia.
“Up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage, these movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane.”
After that the plane can be tracked for almost seven more hours – thanks to a third communication system location information from military satellites – which picked up on satellite signals from the plane. That has emerged in the last week.
And then, at cruising height over somewhere over the Indian Ocean, the satellite signals dropped out too.
The second black-out of satellite signals could have been because a sudden catastrophic event took down the plane and its 239 passengers.
Or, the satellite system too could have been disabled. Though disabling satellite communications is an even more complex and skilled procedure than disabling the transponder.
Missing Malaysia flight MH370: focus shifts west
John Sparks writes on why the search is moving location, and why it seems everyone has been looking in the wrong place.
That means that the spotlight has turned to the people on board the plane as the authorities search for reasons for flight MH370’s disappearance.
“The Malaysian authorities have re-focussed their investigation into the crew and passengers on board,” said Prime Minister Razak. “Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear that we are still investigating all possibilities.”
The Malaysian police separately announced on Saturday they were searching the home of the plane’s pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53.
There were two pilots on board, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53 and the younger co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27.
Friends of the pilot of the downed plane pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, said he was extremely experienced and loved working on Boeing 777s, to the extent that he built a simulator of one in his spare time.
“He knew everything about the Boeing 777. Something significant would have had to happen for Zaharie and the plane to go missing. It would have to be total electrical failure,” said another Malaysia Airlines pilot who knew Zaharie.
Mr Zaharie was described as a family man who cared about the community – even running a youtube channel with tips on how to make air-conditioners more efficent and how to waterproof window planes.
The young co-pilot was a new pilot, just recently engaged to be married. Fariq was a sports player and the son of a high-ranking civil servant. A minor scandal involving Fariq in 2011 centred on allegations that he and another pilot had invited two women boarding their aircraft to sit in the cockpit for a flight from Phuket to Kuala Lumpur. During the flight, the pilots smoked and flirted, said one of the women, South African Jonti Roos, speaking to Australia’s Nine Network.
The FBI has already looked into the backgrounds of the passengers and pilots, a US official said, but hasn’t found any ties to terrorist groups or other indications they may have tried to hijack or sabotage a plane.
An analysis of the communications systems on board the Malaysia plane has shown that manually disabling both the transponder, routine engine updates and then satellite locator systems on the plane would have been difficult and required an expert knowledge of Boeing.
The new data on the plane location has changed where the search crews are looking for the plane. The Malaysian prime minister said he was calling off the search over the South China sea and that two separate corridors between Thailand, Kazakstan and then between Indonesia and South Indian ocean were the new focus for the international rescue teams.
“This new satellite information has a significant impact on the nature and scope of the search operation,” said Prime Minister Razak.
“We are ending our operations in the South China Sea and reassessing our deployment of our assets. We are working with the relevant countries to request all information relevant to the search including radar data.
“Clearly the search for MH370 has entered a new phase,” he told the press conference.
"Deliberate action" - statement by Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak
Based on new satellite communication, we can say with a high degree of certainty, that the aircraft communications addressing and reporting system - Acars - was disabled, just before the aircraft reached the east coast of the peninsula of Malaysia.
Up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage, these movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane.
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.
Based on this new data, the aviation authorities of Malaysia and their international counterparts have determined that the plane’s last communication with a satellite was in one of two possible corridors. The northern corridor stretching approximately from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand.
Or a southern corridor stretching approximately from Indonesia to southern Indian ocean.
The Malaysian authorities have re-focussed their investigation into the crew and passengers on board. Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear that we are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused flight MH370 to deviate from its original flight path.
This new satellite information has significant impact on the nature and scope of the search operation.
We are ending our operations in the South China Sea and reassessing our deployment of our assets. We are working with the relevant countries to request all information relevant to the search including radar data.
Clearly the search for MH370 has entered a new phase. Over the last seven days we have followed every lead and looked into every possibility for the families and friends of those involved, we hope this new information brings us one step closer to finding the plane.