Malaysian investigators are increasingly certain that the missing jetliner turned back across the country after losing communications, and that someone with aviation skills was responsible for the unexplained change in course, according to a government official involved in the probe.
The official, who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to brief the media, 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.
Speaking earlier, acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the country had yet to determine what happened to the plane after it dropped off civilian radar and ceased communicating with the ground around 40 minutes into the flight to Beijing.
He said investigators were still trying to establish with certainty that military radar records of a blip moving west across the Malay Peninsula into the Strait of Malacca showed Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
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“I will be the happiest person if we can actually confirm that it is the MH370, then we can move all (search) assets from the South China Sea to the Strait of Malacca,” he told reporters. Until then, he said, the international search effort would continue expanding east and west from the plane’s last confirmed location.
The Malaysian official said it had now been established with a “more than 50 percent” degree of certainty that military radar had picked up the missing plane.
On Thursday, an American official said the plane remained airborne after losing contact with air traffic controllers because it was sending a signal to establish contact with a satellite.
The Malaysian official confirmed this, referring to the process by its technical term of a “handshake”.
Boeing offers a satellite service that can receive a stream of data on how an aircraft is functioning during flight and relay the information to the plane’s home base. Malaysia Airlines didn’t subscribe to that service, but the plane still had the capability to connect with the satellite and was automatically sending signals, or pings, said the US official.
Hishammuddin said the government would only release information about the signals when they were verified. “I hope within a couple of days to have something conclusive,” he told a news conference.
Malaysia has faced accusations it isn’t sharing all its information or suspicions about the plane’s final movements. It insists it is being open, and says it would be irresponsible to narrow the focus of the search until there is undeniable evidence of the plane’s flight path.
No theory has been ruled out in one of modern aviation’s most puzzling mysteries.