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Malaysian leader: 'Search for MH370 has entered a new phase'



KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- The missing Malaysian jetliner was deliberately diverted and continued flying for more than six hours after severing contact with the ground, meaning it could have gone as far northwest as Kazakhstan or into the Indian Ocean's southern reaches, Malaysia's leader said Saturday.

Prime Minister Najib Razak's statement confirmed days of mounting speculation that the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 to Beijing more than a week ago was not accidental. It also refocused the investigation into the flight's crew and passengers, and underlined the complicated task for searchers who already have been scouring vast areas of ocean.

"Clearly the search for MH370 has entered a new phase," Najib said at a televised news conference.

Najib stressed that investigators were looking into all possibilities as to why the Boeing 777 deviated so drastically from its original flight path, saying authorities could not confirm whether it was a hijacking. Earlier Saturday, a Malaysian official said the plane had been hijacked, though he added that no motive had been established and no demands had been made known.

"In view of this latest development, the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board," Najib told reporters, reading from a written statement but not taking any questions.

Police on Saturday went to the Kuala Lumpur homes of both the pilot and co-pilot of the missing plane, according to a guard and several local reporters. Authorities have said they will investigate the pilots as part of their probe, but have released no information about how they are progressing.

Experts have previously said that whoever disabled the plane's communication systems and then flew the jet must have had a high degree of technical knowledge and flying experience. One possibility they have raised was that one of the pilots wanted to commit suicide.

The plane was carrying 239 people when it departed for an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing at 12:40 a.m. on March 8. Its communications with civilian air controllers were severed at about 1:20 a.m., and the jet went missing - heralding one of the most puzzling mysteries in modern aviation history.

China, where the bulk of the passengers were from, expressed irritation over what it described as Malaysia's foot-dragging in releasing information about the search.

Investigators now have a high degree of certainty that one of the plane's communications systems - the Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System - was disabled before the aircraft reached the east coast of Malaysia, Najib said. Shortly afterward, someone on board switched off the aircraft's transponder, which communicates with civilian air traffic controllers.

Najib confirmed that Malaysian air force defense radar picked up traces of the plane turning back westward, crossing over Peninsular Malaysia into the northern stretches of the Strait of Malacca. Authorities previously had said this radar data could not be verified.

"These movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane," Najib said.

Although the aircraft was flying virtually blind to air traffic controllers at this point, onboard equipment continued to send "pings" to satellites.

The prime minister said the last confirmed signal between the plane and a satellite came at 8:11 a.m. - 7 hours and 31 minutes after takeoff. This was more than five hours later than the previous time given by Malaysian authorities as the possible last contact.

Airline officials have said the plane had enough fuel to fly for up to about eight hours.

"The investigations team is making further calculations which will indicate how far the aircraft may have flown after this last point of contact," Najib said.

He said authorities had determined that the plane's last communication with a satellite was in one of two possible arcs, or "corridors" - a northern one from northern Thailand through to the border of the Central Asian countries Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and a southern one from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.

The northern route might theoretically have taken the plane through China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan - which hosts U.S. military bases - and Central Asia, and it is unclear how it might have gone undetected. The region is also home to extremist Islamist groups, unstable governments and remote, sparsely populated areas.

Flying south would have put the plane over the Indian Ocean, with an average depth of 3,890 meters (12,762 feet) and thousands of kilometers (miles) from the nearest land mass.

Britain-based aviation security consultant Chris Yates thought it was highly unlikely the plane would have taken the northern route across land in Asia.

"In theory, any country that sees a strange blip is going to get fighter planes up to have a look," he said. "And if those fighter planes can't make head or tail of what it is, they will shoot it down."

Najib said search efforts in the South China Sea, where the plane first lost contact, had ended.

Two-thirds of the plane's 227 passengers were Chinese, and China's government has been under pressure to give relatives firm news of the aircraft's fate.

In a stinging commentary on Saturday, the Chinese government's Xinhua News Agency said the Malaysian information was "painfully belated," resulting in wasted efforts and straining the nerves of relatives.

"Given today's technology, the delay smacks of either dereliction of duty or reluctance to share information in a full and timely manner," Xinhua said. "That would be intolerable."

Najib said he understood the need for families to receive information, but that his government wanted to release only fully corroborated reports. He said his country has been sharing information with international investigators, even when it meant placing "national security concerns" second to the search. U.S., British and Malaysian air safety investigators have been on the ground in Malaysia to assist with the investigation.

In the Chinese capital, relatives of passengers who have anxiously awaited news at a hotel near Beijing's airport said they felt deceived at not being told earlier about the plane's last signal. "We are going through a roller coaster, and we feel helpless and powerless," said a woman, who declined to give her name.

At least one of the relatives saw a glimmer of hope in word that the plane's disappearance was a deliberate act, rather than a crash. "It's very good," said a woman, who gave only her surname, Wen.

Malaysian police have already said they are looking at the psychological state, family life and connections of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27. Both have been described as respectable, community-minded men.

Zaharie joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981 and had more than 18,000 hours of flying experience. His Facebook page showed an aviation enthusiast who flew remote-controlled aircraft, posting pictures of his collection, which included a lightweight twin-engine helicopter and an amphibious aircraft.

Fariq was contemplating marriage after having just graduated to the cockpit of a Boeing 777. He has drawn scrutiny after the revelation that in 2011, he and another pilot invited two women aboard their aircraft to sit in the cockpit for a flight from Phuket, Thailand, to Kuala Lumpur.

Fourteen countries are involved in the search for the plane, using 43 ships and 58 aircraft.

A U.S. P-8A Poseidon, the most advanced long-range anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare aircraft in the world, was to arrive over the weekend and sweep parts of the Indian Ocean, the U.S. Defense Department said in a statement.

---

Associated Press writers Chris Brummitt and Jim Gomez contributed to this report from Kuala Lumpur. AP writer Didi Tang, video producer Aritz Parra and news assistant Henry Hou contributed from Beijing.

Join the discussion

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Billy Baru March 15 2014 at 11:55 AM

Why havent they started searching land yet. This plane is probably on some remote piece of land where nobody can see it. If it went down in the sea, debris would have been found by now. This plane never crashed. It is on some piece of remote land. The passengers can still be alive. They have to cover all angles and they arent doing this right now....

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4 replies
pscottparker10231955 March 15 2014 at 11:59 AM

Plane probably commandeered for evil purpose with all passengers killed. Great detective work by authorities so far, eh? Very reassuring and comforting. Makes me want to go fly somewhere right now.........................................................................................................................................................................not.

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ccoxfox1 March 15 2014 at 12:05 PM

IT SOUNDS LIKE the Maylasian govt. is only admitting things that they have to. The things they have just recently admitted were all things that would have been figured out within the 1st hour the plane went missing.

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JOHNNY 65 March 15 2014 at 12:06 PM

Flew 7 hours after point of contact? Who Knows? The expert's are stunned? You make the call!

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1 reply
tbearr99 JOHNNY 65 March 15 2014 at 12:25 PM

No it flew a total of 7 hours. It had about 8 hours of fuel

Flag Reply +1 rate up
jaydjet March 15 2014 at 12:06 PM

It's too early to make any statements about this tragedy. We just have to PRAY and WAIT!!!!! I am just one of the many interested Americans. Pray for the BEST!!!!!!!

Flag Reply +6 rate up
semprfi55 March 15 2014 at 12:07 PM

Calculate how much fuel was loaded on the aircraft and figure how many miles it would travel , then draw circle of the miles and seach along the periphary of that circle.

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1 reply
wittlief semprfi55 March 15 2014 at 12:46 PM

It might have flown in circles

Flag Reply +1 rate up
celweh March 15 2014 at 12:11 PM

No matter what happened, those passengers knew something was horribly amiss, and suffered. Everyone who is on a flight knows the flight duration, and presuming they were alive, must have wondered why the flight was taking so freakin long. In addition, if the plane dropped suddenly, or went too high, can you even imagine the duress on those passengers?!!!! My guess, the guy with the flight simulator in his living room is part of the puzzle.

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1 reply
glhs724 celweh March 15 2014 at 12:30 PM

i agree with you.he has practiced landing in a remote aeras. they should look at the simulators visual aspects.

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bobpaglee March 15 2014 at 12:13 PM

It's time to start looking at remte places like the Andaman Islands where the hijackers may have crashlanded the 777. Unlesss the hijackers had a suicide wish they would not have crashlanded at sea, and if they were suicidal, why not have done it before changing course and flying onward forseveral hours?

The hijackers expected the world to think the 777 lies at the bottom of the sea. The US should do an intensive search of all tiny islands along a projection of the 777's known route using a high-definition satellite camera. The sea bottom is difficult or impossible to search by satellite but tiny islands and their shoals are visible cloud cover permitting.

U.S and China should put their spy satellites to work and perhaps resolve the mystery.

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1 reply
Ron bobpaglee March 15 2014 at 12:36 PM

You don't "think" they considered this?

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cneely08 March 15 2014 at 12:13 PM

If the pilot wanted to commit suicide why would he fly 7 hours and change course to do it?

Flag Reply +5 rate up
1 reply
wittlief cneely08 March 15 2014 at 12:45 PM

So they will not find the data recorderrs

Flag Reply +1 rate up
greg07772 March 15 2014 at 12:16 PM

why would you steal a 777,,,,, a delivery device with a very large, heavy , cargo capacity.. or,, what would you use to deliver something heavy , large, and explosive. ....

Flag Reply +3 rate up
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