(CNN) — The Malaysian Prime Minister stopped short of calling the disappearance of Flight 370 a hijacking, but he said Saturday that the jet veered off course, likely due to deliberate action taken by someone aboard.
With that revelation on Day 8, the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines plane refocused on the crew and passengers and widened to a larger swath of geography.
The passenger jetliner disappeared March 8, en route from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, China.
“Evidence is consistent with someone acting deliberately from inside the plane,” Prime Minister Najib Razak said, officially confirming the plane’s disappearance was not caused by an accident.
“Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, we are investigating all major possibilities on what caused MH370 to deviate,” he said.
Military radar showed the jetliner flew in a westerly direction back over the peninsula before turning northwest toward the Bay of Bengal or southwest into the Indian Ocean, Najib said.
“Up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage, these movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane,” he said.
Investigators, he said, have confirmed by looking at the raw satellite data that the plane in question was the Malaysia Airlines jet.
The same conclusion was reached by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch and the Malaysian authorities, all of whom were working separately with the same data, he said.
Pilot’s home searched
Shortly after Najib spoke with reporters, a source close to the investigation told CNN that Malaysian police had searched the home of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53. Shah lives in a gated community in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur.
Police made no comment about their activities at the home of co-pilot, Fariq Ab Hamid, 27. Two vans exited the home carrying small bags, similar to shopping bags, but it was unclear whether the bags were taken from the home.
Kazakhstan to Indian Ocean
As the focus of the investigation has shifted, so too has the focus of the search.
Information from international and Malaysian officials indicate that the jet may have flown for more than seven hours after the last contact with the pilots. The area of the search has broadened.
The plane’s last communication with the satellite, Najib said, was in one of two possible corridors: a northern corridor stretching from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand and a southern corridor stretching from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.
“Based on new satellite information, we can say with a high degree of certainty that the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, was disabled just before the aircraft reached the East Coast of peninsular Malaysia,” the Prime Minister said.
“Shortly afterward, near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control, the aircraft’s transponder was switched off. From this point onwards, the Royal Malaysian Air Force primary radar showed that an aircraft — which was believed but not confirmed to be MH370 — did turn back.”
Given that the new search area involves a number of countries, the relevant foreign embassies have been given access to the new information. Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry will brief the governments that had passengers aboard the plane and will brief the relatives of its 239 passengers and crew.
The search now involves 14 countries, 43 ships and 58 aircraft, Najib said.
Shortly after Najib delivered his remarks, China demanded that Malaysia provide more information on the investigation. China is sending technical experts to join the investigation.
Most of the passengers aboard were Chinese.
Plane was taking ‘strange path’
Hours before Najib’s announcement, U.S. officials told CNN the flight had made drastic changes in altitude and direction after disappearing from civilian radar.
The more U.S. officials learn about the flight, “the more difficult to write off” the idea that some type of human intervention was involved, an official familiar with the investigation said.
CNN has learned that a classified analysis of electronic and satellite data suggests the flight may have crashed in the Bay of Bengal or elsewhere in the Indian Ocean.
Taken together, the data point toward a possible scenario in which someone may have taken control of the plane for some unknown purpose.
The jetliner was flying “a strange path,” a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity. The details of the radar readings were first reported by The New York Times on Friday.
Malaysian military radar showed the plane climbing to 45,000 feet — which is above its approved altitude limit — soon after disappearing from civilian radar screens and then dropping to 23,000 feet before climbing again, the official said.
Air traffic controllers outside Kuala Lumpur said they lost contact with the plane on March 8 at 1:30 a.m. local time, about 45 minutes after takeoff. The Prime Minister said its last communication with a satellite was at 8:11 a.m. the same day, but its precise location was unclear.
Najib noted that theories and conspiracy theories on what happened abound.
“There has been intense speculation,” Najib said. “We understand the desperate need for information on behalf of the families and those watching around the world. But we have a responsibility to the investigation and the families to only release information that has been corroborated.”
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