Investigators trying to solve the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner have concluded that one of the pilots or someone else with flying experience hijacked the missing Boeing 777 and steered it off course, according to a Malaysian government official.
The official, who is involved in the investigation, told The Associated Press on Saturday that 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,” he said.
He said evidence that led to the conclusion were signs that the plane’s communications were switched off deliberately, data about the flight path and indications the plane was steered in a way to avoid detection by radar.
The jet’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.
Earlier, a senior U.S. official told Fox News that the search effort will broaden deep into the Indian Ocean, based on new intelligence assessments that there is a “higher probability” the aircraft went down in that region.
As a consequence of shared U.S.-Malaysian intelligence assessments, it is understood that the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Kidd will expand its search into a southern quadrant of the ocean, while Indian authorities will cover a northern quadrant.
The development comes as authorities speculate that the disappearance may have been an “act of piracy,” and more evidence suggests the plane was diverted by a skilled pilot before it vanished, U.S. and Malaysian officials familiar with the investigation said Friday.
A Malaysian government official involved in the mysterious case said only a skilled person could navigate the Boeing 777 the way it was flown after its last confirmed location over the South China Sea, the Associated Press reported earlier Friday.
The official declined to be identified because he is not authorized to brief the media.
Key evidence for “human intervention” in the plane’s disappearance is that contact with its transponder stopped about 12 minutes before a messaging system quit, an unidentified American official told the Associated Press. The official — also not authorized to speak publicly — said it’s also possible the plane may have landed somewhere.
ABC News quoted two unidentified American officials as saying the U.S. believes the plane’s data reporting system and transponder were shut down separately, at 1:07 a.m. and 1:21 a.m. Such a scenario would indicate the plane did not disappear due to some kind of catastrophic failure.
A source familiar with the investigation but not authorized to speak on the record told Fox News that flight 370 continued to send “periodic pushes” of data after the transponder went dark for about four hours after contact was lost with the aircraft, suggesting the jet continued to fly. This was described to Fox News as signals data that, in isolation, would not provide location data.
While the systems were no longer transmitting maintenance data, the satellite communication link was still active. Once an hour, the system sent out a “handshake” — a form of reset, like a cell phone searching for an antenna tower.
The “handshake” allows the satellite to work out how much tilt or arc was needed to be in range of the plane’s signal. It therefore provides a scope or range for the aircraft, but it does not provide altitude, speed or location.
If the plane had disintegrated during flight or had suffered some other catastrophic failure, all signals — the pings to the satellite, the data messages and the transponder — would be expected to stop at the same time.