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Missing Malaysian jet changed course, military says

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 12:51 p.m. HST, Mar 11, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia >> The missing Boeing 777 jetliner changed course over the sea, crossed Malaysia and reached the Strait of Malacca -- hundreds of miles from its last position recorded by civilian authorities, Malaysian military officials said Tuesday, citing military radar data.

The development added confusion and mystery into one of most puzzling aviation incidents of recent time, and it has raised questions about why the Malaysia Airlines flight apparently was not transmitting signals detectable by civilian radar, why its crew was silent about the course change and why no distress calls were sent after it turned back.

Many experts have been working on the assumption there was a catastrophic event on the flight -- such as an explosion, engine failure, terrorist attack, extreme turbulence, pilot error or even suicide. The director of the CIA said in Washington that he still would not rule out terrorism.

Flight MH370, carrying 239 people, took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. Saturday, bound for Beijing. Authorities initially said its last contact with ground controllers was less than an hour into the flight at a height of 35,000 feet, when the plane was somewhere between the east coast of Malaysia and Vietnam.

But local newspaper Berita Harian quoted Malaysia's air force chief, Gen. Rodzali Daud, as saying that radar at a military base had tracked the jet as it changed its course, with the final signal at 2:40 a.m. showing the plane to be near Pulau Perak at the northern approach to the Strait of Malacca, a busy waterway that separates the western coast of Malaysia and Indonesia's Sumatra island. It was flying slightly lower, at around 29,528 feet, he said.

"After that, the signal from the plane was lost," he was quoted as saying.

A high-ranking military official involved in the investigation confirmed the report. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose sensitive information.

Authorities had said earlier the plane may have tried to turn back to Kuala Lumpur, but they expressed surprise it would do so without informing ground control.

The search was initially focused hundreds of miles (kilometers) to the east, in waters off Vietnam, with more than 40 planes and ships from at least 10 nations searching the area without finding a trace of the missing aircraft.

Earlier Tuesday, Malaysia Airlines said in a statement that search-and-rescue teams had expanded their scope to the Strait of Malacca. An earlier statement said the western coast of Malaysia was "now the focus," but the airline subsequently said that phrase was an oversight. It didn't elaborate.

Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the search remained "on both sides" of Malaysia.

Attention will now likely focus on the condition of the Boeing 777's electronic systems as it charted its new course back toward and then across Malaysia.

A radar antenna on the ground sends electromagnetic waves that reflect from the surface of an aircraft and almost instantly return, allowing controllers to calculate how far away a plane is. The antenna is mounted on a rotating platform, sending and receiving signals 360 degrees across the sky, enabling the plane's direction to be tracked by constant sweeps.

The system has limitations: Military and civilian air traffic controllers know something is moving through the air but might not know what it is. So planes were outfitted with transponders that can send a unique signal back to the radar station, which can differentiate them from other aircraft. From this signal, controllers can tell the flight number, heading, speed and altitude.

Radar stations at airports are designed to track planes up to about 60 miles. They are used to help sequence and space landing aircraft. Another series of stations called air route surveillance radar can track planes 200-250 miles away, depending on weather and the age of the technology. Station locations are selected to allow for a slight overlap so planes in heavy-traffic areas are never out of reach of radar.

While radar black spots can exist, experts said the plane's transponders normally would have been emitting signals that would have been picked up by civilian radar. The fact that it apparently wasn't detected suggests they were either disabled or switched off. Planes with no transponders can still be tracked by radar.

Low-flying planes can sometimes avoid radar detection. There is no set height they must be under, but the farther away they are from a radar station, the higher they can be because of the angle of the radar antenna and the curvature of the Earth.

Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar, who has been ordered to look at possible criminal aspects in the disappearance of Flight MH370, said hijacking, sabotage and issues related to the pilots' psychological health were all being considered.

An Australian TV station reported that the first officer on the missing plane, Fariq Abdul Hamid, had invited two women into the cockpit during a flight two years ago. One of the women, Jonti Roos, described the encounter on Australia's "A Current Affair."

Roos said she and a friend were allowed to stay in the cockpit during the entire one-hour flight on Dec. 14, 2011, from Phuket, Thailand, to Kuala Lumpur. She said the arrangement did not seem unusual to the plane's crew.

"Throughout the entire flight, they were talking to us and they were actually smoking throughout the flight," said Roos, who didn't immediately reply to a message sent to her via Facebook. The second pilot on the 2011 flight was not identified

Malaysia Airlines said it took the allegations very seriously, which it said it was not able to confirm, adding: "We are in the midst of a crisis, and we do not want our attention to be diverted."

Also Tuesday, Malaysian and international police authorities said two people who boarded Flight MH370 with stolen passports were Iranians who had bought tickets to Europe, where they planning to migrate. Their presence on the flight had raised speculation of a possible terrorist link.

Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said investigators had determined one was a 19-year-old Iranian, Pouria Nourmohammadi Mehrdad. "We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group," Khalid said.

Interpol identified the second man as Seyed Mohammed Reza Delavar, a 29-year-old Iranian, and released an image of the two boarding at the same time. Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said the two men traveled to Malaysia on their Iranian passports, then apparently switched to their stolen Austrian and Italian documents.

CIA Director John Brennan said in Washington that Malaysian authorities "are looking very carefully at what went wrong; you know, if these individuals got onto the plane with these stolen passports, why they were not aware of it."

He also said there has been "a lot of speculation right now -- some claims of responsibility that have not been, you know, confirmed or corroborated at all. We are looking at it very carefully."

Asked if terrorism could be ruled out, Brennan replied, "No, I wouldn't rule it out. Not at all."

The United States has sent two Navy ships, at least one of which is equipped with helicopters, and a Navy P-3C Orion plane that can detect small debris in the water. It said the Malaysian government had done a "tremendous job" organizing the land and sea effort.

Vietnamese planes and ships also are a major component of the effort.

Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of Vietnamese People's Army, said authorities on land had also been ordered to search for the plane, which could have crashed into mountains or jungle. He said military units near the border with Laos and Cambodia had been instructed to search their regions.

"So far we have found no signs ... so we must widen our search on land," he said.


Associated Press writers Tran Van Minh in Hanoi, Vietnam, Jim Gomez and Chris Brummitt in Kuala Lumpur, Christopher Bodeen in Beijing, Eileen Sullivan in Washington and Airlines Writer Scott Mayerowitz in New York contributed to this report.

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localguy wrote:
Willing to bet Jonti Roos is just looking for her 60 seconds of fame from her otherwise boring life. Saying she was in the cockpit and not one crew member reported it? Smoking on the aircraft and not one crew member reported it? Same for that totally apparently clueless TV station and program, "A Current Affair." Unless they have verified the report through several of the aircrew and other passengers, their story is basically tabloid, used to wrap fish and line a cat litter box. So many acutely dysfunctional people in the world today. Sad.
on March 11,2014 | 01:06PM
1R1E wrote:
come on now.. whats really going on here...?
on March 11,2014 | 01:19PM
serious wrote:
The difference between the military and ATC radars are that the military paints the body of the airplane while the ATC radar uses the transponder to ID the aircraft which also give their altitude and then they can track it. Obviously the military knows a bad guy isn't going to come in with a transponder. In the cockpit its an ON and OFF and then one dials in whatever data one needs for the ATC. If a terrorist can get through the cockpit door and knows anything about the console he just turns it off and as they did in the 911 incidents "neutralize" the pilots, use the round turn switch for the autopilot and go wherever you want to go---ATC can't "see" you and can't hear you. But, if so, why???
on March 11,2014 | 01:30PM
juscasting wrote:
Exactly!....How many can a 777 carry? Is it for ransom, organ black market, inquiry minds want to know!
on March 11,2014 | 01:38PM
localguy wrote:
Question is how did the military let an aircraft fly over the country with no identity made, no aircraft launched to intercept, nothing done? Talk about looking incompetent.
on March 11,2014 | 10:02PM
NiteMarcher wrote:
Could be a possible conspiracy going on! huh? Why does the U.S. always attribute everything that goes on around the world to terrorism?
on March 11,2014 | 02:14PM
serious wrote:
You ar correct. I gave one possibility, another is that one of the pilots for whatever reason, "neutralized" the other pilot and took control--but once again WHY?
on March 11,2014 | 03:41PM
MizuInOz wrote:
Maybe, just maybe, we have now discovered a new "triangle". The one in Bermuda has been a bit out of the news. So, the Malaysian Triangle is the new vibration. Poof: a plane and all passengers, crew and stuff are all gone. Now the chief of the Malaysian Air Farce is denying that he made any statement that the plane turned around. Hmmm... If it talks like a fish, walks like a fish and smells like a fish; must be. Things are getting curiouser and curiouser.
on March 11,2014 | 03:16PM
cojef wrote:
Guess there are some fish that can walk, like the oriental bull-fish. Can relate to the other 2 elements. Plane fuel capacity indicate it must come down some time. 21 century mystery for sure.
on March 11,2014 | 05:42PM
SueH wrote:
If the new theory is the plane changed course and headed east to the Strait of Malaca where it disappeared, then how do they explain the two large oil slicks in the ocean east of Malaysia where the plane was first thought to have gone down???
on March 11,2014 | 05:38PM
localguy wrote:
Slick contents was analyzed. Determined not to come from an aircraft.
on March 11,2014 | 10:04PM
sailfish1 wrote:
With no debris sighted, it's possible the plane landed somewhere.
on March 11,2014 | 06:56PM
localguy wrote:
Not likely. Someone would have seen something. Cellphones would have connected. Aircraft radio made contact.
on March 11,2014 | 10:05PM
localguy wrote:
Revealed on the evening news Malaysian Government Officials with zero, nada, zilch, experience in running a missing aircraft investigation are messing up big time. Trying to save face, they will not let the professionals from the NTSB and other organizations guide them to success. Notice how many times the news has been changed, one government official to the next, no one clearly in charge. Transportation Minister trying to spin why they failed to check the Interpol database of Lost or stolen travel documents (L S T D) at no cost. Sad to say Malaysia is looking like a 5th world country versus 3rd world. Days of wasted time and effort. First impressions are everything, their's is totally blown.
on March 11,2014 | 09:59PM
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