One U.S. official says the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 flew for several hours after it was last detected, and others revealed to Reuters that whoever was flying the plane appears to have taken it off course on purpose. The new information again raises the possibility of foul play aboard the plane, resurfacing a theory largely thrown out by officials as the fruitless search reaches nears the one-week mark.
The Associated Press reports that according to one official, the missing plane continued to send satellite signals for four hours after it went missing, suggesting that it flew for several miles after losing contact with control towers. The anonymous official explained that though the plane was not sending out data, it was automatically pinging a satellite. In his words:
It's like when your cellphone is off but it still sends out a little "I'm here" message to the cellphone network. That's how sometimes they can triangulate your position even though you're not calling because the phone every so often sends out a little bleep. That's sort of what this thing was doing.
The official added that the satellite information — and some other basic data — was received long after the plane's transponder was turned off. This would suggest that the plane did not suffer catastrophic failure. I
f that was the case all communication would have been lost at once.
Singapore Today mapped out the route per Reuters report:
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal also reported that the plane had flown for hours after it was last officially detected, citing information automatically sent out by the plane's engine. The report has come under scrutiny since then, especially after the WSJ issued a partial correction walking back claims that data came from the plane's engine. Malaysian officials denied the WSJ's findings specifically, but later Malaysia's acting Minister of Transport Hishamuddin Hussein said it was possible the plane had continued its journey for hours longer than initially thought, "Of course. We can't rule anything out. This is why we have extended the search. We are expanding our search into the Andaman Sea."
Meanwhile, unnamed sources told Reuters that military radar points to a deliberate movement away from the prescribed course, either by the pilot or someone else who was flying the plane. Reuters explains:
Analysis of the Malaysia data suggests the plane, with 239 people on board, diverted from its intended northeast route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and flew west instead, using airline flight corridors normally employed for routes to the Middle East and Europe, said sources familiar with investigations into the Boeing 777's disappearance. Two sources said an unidentified aircraft that investigators believe was Flight MH370 was following a route between navigational waypoints when it was last plotted on military radar off the country's northwest coast.
Waypoints are geographic locations that help pilots figure out where they are, and could only be used by an experienced flyer. One Malaysian police official told Reuters that now, "we are looking at sabotage, with hijack still on the cards."
The military radar tracking this journey suggests that the plane was headed to India's Andaman Islands, and, indeed, Indian officials have started to search these islands for traces of the plane. The fact that Vietnam has downgraded its search also points to the possibility that the plane was in the air for longer than previously thought, as search committees ease off investigating the closer South China Sea and instead focus on the Indian Ocean. So far, no trace of the plane has been detected, and China said that satellite images showing some debris were not linked to MH370.
Meanwhile, China continues to urge Malaysia to be more forthcoming with information on the mission as distraught families of passengers wait for news. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement, "China urgently appeals to Malaysia for all information they have regarding the search. That will not only help China with its search, but also help all sides in the search to make their search more effective and accurately targeted."