American officials are now saying that the first sharp westward turn taken by missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was programmed into a computer system, most likely by someone in the cockpit, furthering suspicion that the plane was hijacked by a member of the airline's crew. At the very least, it would have to be someone with extensive flying experience and working knowledge of the plane's systems.
According to the New York Times, the plane's Flight Management System was reprogrammed either in the air or before takeoff by someone with knowledge of how the plane works:
Instead of manually operating the plane’s controls, whoever altered Flight 370’s path typed seven or eight keystrokes into a computer on a knee-high pedestal between the captain and the first officer, according to officials. The Flight Management System, as the computer is known, directs the plane from point to point specified in the flight plan submitted before a flight.
Unnamed officials told the Times that it's not unusual to reprogram the plane's route, in order to avoid bad weather or air traffic, by entering codes representing different waypoints — geographic markers pilots can identify by sight and use to navigate. Other sources have previously reported that whoever flew MH370 off course was using such waypoints.
The Times reports that the flight followed the new route before the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (Acars) had been switched off:
Flight 370’s Flight Management System reported its status to the Acars, which in turn transmitted information back to a maintenance base, according to an American official. This shows that the reprogramming happened before the Acars stopped working. The Acars ceased to function about the same time that oral radio contact was lost and the airplane’s transponder also stopped, fueling suspicions that foul play was involved in the plane’s disappearance.
The new information doesn't necessarily help clarify the case. Officials are just starting to toy with the possibility of pilot suicide, but the deliberate reprogramming confounds that theory. And China, which is currently searching its territory for traces of the plane, recently announced it has cleared all Chinese passengers aboard the flight of links to terrorism.
Still, if the current working theories are correct (that the plane flew for hours without being detected by radar) people are wondering why none of the passengers tried to make contact with friends or family at any point. The search parameters are continually being redrawn:
Meanwhile, frustrated families have threatened to go on a hunger strike as investigators, well into the second week of the search, continue to grasp at straws.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.