BEIJING -- Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday that missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 was diverted due to “deliberate action” by either a passenger or crew member.
He also said the Boeing 777 might have flown for as long as eight hours after its takeoff at 12:20 a.m. March 9, meaning that in theory it could have traveled thousands of miles.
Najib said investigators were focusing their search now on two air traffic corridors -- a southern one heading from Indonesia to the south Indian Ocean, and a northern one that would have taken the flight toward Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
In his statements, the prime minister belatedly confirmed what U.S. intelligence had been suggesting for days -- that the flight fell victim to foul play -- a theory that Malaysia dismissed for much of the past week. The prime minister, however, declined to characterize the incident as a hijacking.
"In view of this latest development, Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board. Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear we are still investigating all possibilities for what led Malaysian Air Flight 370 to deviate from its flight path."
The conclusion that the flight was intentionally commandeered was based on data showing that somebody with knowledge of the Boeing 777 disabled first the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System shortly after takeover and then the transponder.
Satellites, however, picked up signals from the plane as late as 8:11 a.m., almost eight hours after takeoff, and about the time the plane would have run out of the fuel it had been loaded with for the 2,700-mile journey to its intended destination, Beijing.
"Due to the type of satellite data, we are unable to confirm the precise location of the plane when it last made contact with the satellite," said the prime minister.
Investigators say that the flight not only deviated from its planned route, but zigzagged in a way that might have been designed to evade detection. After initially heading northeast toward Beijing, it turned west over the Malacca Strait before turning again toward the Indian Ocean.
Some experts suggest the flight path through known air corridors indicates that whoever was in control of the plane was a pilot or expert in aviation.