Malaysian officials are asking more than a dozen nations to help find the jetliner that went missing last weekend. The search area for the Boeing 777 was widely expanded Saturday; investigators are now looking for potential motives among the plane’s crew and passengers to disrupt the flight.
The new call for help comes after ships and planes spent days looking for signs of the plane in the South China Sea. New radar and satellite data has led investigators to conclude the plane took a westerly turn from that area, likely after someone intentionally disabled its transponders and other equipment.
The new data shows that the plane flew for more than six and a half hours after it ceased communicating with air traffic control.
“The search was already a highly complex, multinational effort. It has now become even more difficult,” Malaysia’s Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Sunday, discussing the status of the search for the Malaysia Airlines flight that had been scheduled to travel from Kuala Lampur to Beijing with 239 people aboard.
Officials now believe “the plane may have either flown northwest toward Central Asia or southwest toward the southern Indian Ocean,” NPR’s Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing.
“From focusing on shallow seas, we are now looking at large tracts of land, crossing 11 countries, as well as deep and remote oceans,” Hussein said. He added that Malaysia is asking those countries for satellite and radar data that might show signs of the plane’s flight path.
From The Wall Street Journal:
“Officials in government and industry have regarded the southern corridor into the Indian Ocean as the more likely path of the 777, but haven’t ruled out the northern arc.
“The track from northern Thailand to Kazakhstan crosses some of the most heavily militarized airspace in the world, including western China. According to [an] industry official, many of those nations ‘would have MiGs up in the sky before you even knew it’ to intercept any unidentified flying object.”
The mystery of the flight’s fate — and that of the people on the jet — has prolonged the anguish and uncertainly of relatives whose loved ones boarded the plane. It has also led to speculation that the jet might have landed instead of crashing. As we reported Saturday, our colleagues at WNYC have created a map of the more than 600 runways that could potentially receive the plane, although experts say such a scenario is highly unlikely.
The authorities are hoping that information from the newly refocused investigation into the plane’s crew and passengers might narrow the potential search area. Police are examining a flight simulator found during a search of the home of the flight’s pilot yesterday; they searched the house of the co-pilot, as well.
Investigators are also talking to the plane’s ground crew, Hussein said. He added that the pilot and co-pilot of the flight did not request to fly together.
Prime Minister Najib Razak announced the shift in the inquiry yesterday, citing a review of the data by Malaysian authorities working with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch.
Razak refused to call the plane’s disappearance a hijacking. But as The Associated Press reports:
“Malaysian officials and aviation experts 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, putting one or both of the pilots high on the list of possible suspects.”
Background checks of all the passengers are still ongoing, police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said Sunday, according to Reuters.