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Malaysian military says missing jet changed course, woman sheds light on co-pilot's past actions



By EILEEN NG

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - The missing Boeing 777 jetliner changed course over the sea, crossed Malaysia and reached the Strait of Malacca - hundreds of miles from its last position recorded by civilian authorities, Malaysian military officials said Tuesday, citing military radar data.

The development added confusion and mystery into one of most puzzling aviation incidents of recent time, and it has raised questions about why the Malaysia Airlines flight apparently was not transmitting signals detectable by civilian radar, why its crew was silent about the course change and why no distress calls were sent after it turned back.

Many experts have been working on the assumption there was a catastrophic event on the flight - such as an explosion, engine failure, terrorist attack, extreme turbulence, pilot error or even suicide. The director of the CIA said in Washington that he still would not rule out terrorism.

Flight MH370, carrying 239 people, took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. Saturday, bound for Beijing. Authorities initially said its last contact with ground controllers was less than an hour into the flight at a height of 35,000 feet, when the plane was somewhere between the east coast of Malaysia and Vietnam.

But local newspaper Berita Harian quoted Malaysia's air force chief, Gen. Rodzali Daud, as saying that radar at a military base had tracked the jet as it changed its course, with the final signal at 2:40 a.m. showing the plane to be near Pulau Perak at the northern approach to the Strait of Malacca, a busy waterway that separates the western coast of Malaysia and Indonesia's Sumatra island. It was flying slightly lower, at around 29,528 feet, he said.

"After that, the signal from the plane was lost," he was quoted as saying.

A high-ranking military official involved in the investigation confirmed the report. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose sensitive information.

Authorities had said earlier the plane may have tried to turn back to Kuala Lumpur, but they expressed surprise it would do so without informing ground control.

The search was initially focused hundreds of miles (kilometers) to the east, in waters off Vietnam, with more than 40 planes and ships from at least 10 nations searching the area without finding a trace of the missing aircraft.

Earlier Tuesday, Malaysia Airlines said in a statement that search-and-rescue teams had expanded their scope to the Strait of Malacca. An earlier statement said the western coast of Malaysia was "now the focus," but the airline subsequently said that phrase was an oversight. It didn't elaborate.

Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the search remained "on both sides" of Malaysia.

Attention will now likely focus on the condition of the Boeing 777's electronic systems as it charted its new course back toward and then across Malaysia.

A radar antenna on the ground sends electromagnetic waves that reflect from the surface of an aircraft and almost instantly return, allowing controllers to calculate how far away a plane is. The antenna is mounted on a rotating platform, sending and receiving signals 360 degrees across the sky, enabling the plane's direction to be tracked by constant sweeps.

The system has limitations: Military and civilian air traffic controllers know something is moving through the air but might not know what it is. So planes were outfitted with transponders that can send a unique signal back to the radar station, which can differentiate them from other aircraft. From this signal, controllers can tell the flight number, heading, speed and altitude.

Radar stations at airports are designed to track planes up to about 60 miles. They are used to help sequence and space landing aircraft. Another series of stations called air route surveillance radar can track planes 200-250 miles away, depending on weather and the age of the technology. Station locations are selected to allow for a slight overlap so planes in heavy-traffic areas are never out of reach of radar.

While radar black spots can exist, experts said the plane's transponders normally would have been emitting signals that would have been picked up by civilian radar. The fact that it apparently wasn't detected suggests they were either disabled or switched off. Planes with no transponders can still be tracked by radar.

Low-flying planes can sometimes avoid radar detection. There is no set height they must be under, but the farther away they are from a radar station, the higher they can be because of the angle of the radar antenna and the curvature of the Earth.

Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar, who has been ordered to look at possible criminal aspects in the disappearance of Flight MH370, said hijacking, sabotage and issues related to the pilots' psychological health were all being considered.

An Australian TV station reported that the first officer on the missing plane, Fariq Abdul Hamid, had invited two women into the cockpit during a flight two years ago. One of the women, Jonti Roos, described the encounter on Australia's "A Current Affair."

Roos said she and a friend were allowed to stay in the cockpit during the entire one-hour flight on Dec. 14, 2011, from Phuket, Thailand, to Kuala Lumpur. She said the arrangement did not seem unusual to the plane's crew.

"Throughout the entire flight, they were talking to us and they were actually smoking throughout the flight," said Roos, who didn't immediately reply to a message sent to her via Facebook. The second pilot on the 2011 flight was not identified

Malaysia Airlines said it took the allegations very seriously, which it said it was not able to confirm, adding: "We are in the midst of a crisis, and we do not want our attention to be diverted."

Also Tuesday, Malaysian and international police authorities said two people who boarded Flight MH370 with stolen passports were Iranians who had bought tickets to Europe, where they planning to migrate. Their presence on the flight had raised speculation of a possible terrorist link.

Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said investigators had determined one was a 19-year-old Iranian, Pouria Nourmohammadi Mehrdad. "We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group," Khalid said.

Interpol identified the second man as Seyed Mohammed Reza Delavar, a 29-year-old Iranian, and released an image of the two boarding at the same time. Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said the two men traveled to Malaysia on their Iranian passports, then apparently switched to their stolen Austrian and Italian documents.

CIA Director John Brennan said in Washington that Malaysian authorities "are looking very carefully at what went wrong; you know, if these individuals got onto the plane with these stolen passports, why they were not aware of it."

He also said there has been "a lot of speculation right now - some claims of responsibility that have not been, you know, confirmed or corroborated at all. We are looking at it very carefully."

Asked if terrorism could be ruled out, Brennan replied, "No, I wouldn't rule it out. Not at all."

The United States has sent two Navy ships, at least one of which is equipped with helicopters, and a Navy P-3C Orion plane that can detect small debris in the water. It said the Malaysian government had done a "tremendous job" organizing the land and sea effort.

Vietnamese planes and ships also are a major component of the effort.

Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of Vietnamese People's Army, said authorities on land had also been ordered to search for the plane, which could have crashed into mountains or jungle. He said military units near the border with Laos and Cambodia had been instructed to search their regions.

"So far we have found no signs ... so we must widen our search on land," he said.

___

Associated Press writers Tran Van Minh in Hanoi, Vietnam, Jim Gomez and Chris Brummitt in Kuala Lumpur, Christopher Bodeen in Beijing, Eileen Sullivan in Washington and Airlines Writer Scott Mayerowitz in New York contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

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Racmanaz March 11 2014 at 9:39 PM

Too many crazy speculation comments going on in here.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
1 reply
John, the GREAT Racmanaz March 11 2014 at 9:54 PM

yes

Flag Reply 0 rate up
david March 11 2014 at 9:24 PM

I said yesterday has anyone watched lost?

Flag Reply +1 rate up
emberbb March 11 2014 at 7:51 PM

Okay - I've read pages of comments. Some are stupid, some are creepy, some make sense, and there are too many unanswered questions. I think there is more to this than the media and government are allowing to be printed. We can still pray for those on the plane because we have not been told otherwise. People pray for many things, in many places, and I am not religious, but what harm can it do.

Flag Reply +14 rate up
1 reply
len5 emberbb March 11 2014 at 8:02 PM

Do you think maybe some ransom demands have been issued?If so that could be a reason for the hush,hush?

Flag Reply +1 rate up
mdfcj March 12 2014 at 12:34 AM

Prayers for the families of the missing travelers.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
ramblintommy March 12 2014 at 5:03 AM

I can appreciate peoples imaginations and theories, I am not going to call people crazy or stupid or anything like that, but I keep seeing about the cell phones, UGH !!! There a lot of place in the United states you can't get service, deserts, mountains etc., do you really think there was cell phone service over the ocean ? and if there was don't you think people would have thought on their own to call family members if possible ?

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1 reply
Elizabeth ramblintommy March 12 2014 at 5:25 AM

I don't even have cell service at my house, which is not in the middle of an ocean, desert or mountain area. People think technology is all-prevailing.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Kathy March 12 2014 at 12:38 AM

Two stolen passports is a huge red flag, I believe the plane was hijacked!

Flag Reply +4 rate up
Hello Ed-MMESCO March 12 2014 at 1:15 AM

While the newest aircraft tracking system in development will rely on GPS rather than skin radar reflection and transponders to detect and space aircraft in flight worldwide, it is very complex and is still in development . In the interim, the same lower cost technology that is used just to locate trucks and rail cars en route could be used employing special waterproof crash resistant self-powered GPS locator transmitters to locate lost aircraft, since U.S. GPS and other position determining satellite systems (such as Glonass) can assist in finding lost aircraft worldwide, at any altitude they fly, down to the ground, unless they are put into an all metal hangar, completely submerged in water, or damaged beyond usability. Such devices already exist for many aircraft, they are called Emergency Locator Transmitters, or ELT's. They should be ruggedized (like data recording "black boxes") and adapted for use in Jetliners immediately, and as an adjunct in the future to the forthcoming generation of Air Traffic Control GPS locator and control systems.

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1 reply
drangonsleep Hello Ed-MMESCO March 12 2014 at 2:38 AM

Most airliners do have Emergency Locator beacons. They are hardened airfoils usually located on or near the tail section of the aircraft, and are launched with a catapult like actuator. It is self contained with a hold open switch that activates once the airfoil is deployed. The airfoil can be activated manually by a covered switch in the cockpit or by impact bulbs located in different parts of the aircraft. However, to be deployed you need an electrical signal to activate it. The deploy system for the Emergency Locator Beacon is wired into the emergency battery back up system in the event of a massive electrical failure. However it is not something you want to deploy at 30 thousand feet because it is an airfoil and can fly a great distance from the aircraft. And if the electrical failure is too extensive you can even lose the ability to deploy the airfoil. Still, because the beacon is activated by a hold open switch once the aircraft impacts it separates enough to allow the beacon to go off. The signal is an audible radio signal that is quite annoying.

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1 reply
cj drangonsleep March 12 2014 at 4:33 AM

I've learned something new... good comment

Flag +1 rate up
ebneila March 12 2014 at 4:58 AM

There are circumstances that are truly strange concerning the lost flight. Putting the grievous losses of life, aside for a moment, there have been suggestions the President is/was involved or somehow responsible, makes NO sense. There have been no links to terrorist activity or cells that may suggest the plane was brought down because of them. The two men that stole passports are among millions that have been stolen, indicating they may have been victims of the ill fated flight and not suicidal perpetrators. At this point, anything is possible, however, placing the blame this soon would be presumptive at best

Flag Reply +2 rate up
drcutlass March 12 2014 at 12:47 AM

If it was terrorists, then why has no terrorist group claimed responsibility?. They are allways so proud of themselves when hey kill innocent people in the name of alllaa.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
4 replies
Andrew March 11 2014 at 9:18 PM

If not one person on that flight has a phone that rings or can be tracked with find my iPhone app then it would have went down in the ocean. If it landed or crashed on land someones phone would be able to be tracked.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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