— USA Today March 11, 2014
Malaysia’s military said Tuesday that a missing jet was hundreds of miles off course an hour after it vanished from civilian radar, deepening the mystery of what happened to the flight with 239 people aboard.
Gen. Rodzali Daud told Malaysia’s Berita Harian newspaper that military radar picked up the location of the Boeing 777 several hundred miles to the west of its intended flight path to Beijing.
If accurate, that would mean the plane flew for about an hour away in the opposite direction of its flight path without communicating to civilian radar or radio communications.
Malaysia Airlines said searchers were widening the scope of the search Tuesday to focus for the first time on Malaysia’s western coast, though Daud would not say why the military was able to detect the plane and civilian authorities were not.
An armada of ships and planes have been searching for wreckage of Flight 370 since it vanished from radar early Saturday.
The airliner last transmitted a signal to civilian aviation authorities over the Gulf of Thailand, east of Malaysia and south of Vietnam, about 1:30 a.m., or roughly an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur.
But the Malaysian military said that at 2:40 a.m. the jet was far to the west over the Malacca Strait. Daud said the aircraft was near Pulau Perak, an island more than 100 miles off the western shore of Malaysia.
“After that, the signal from the plane was lost,” Daud told the newspaper.
Also Tuesday, Malaysian and international police authorities said two Iranians who boarded Flight MH370 with stolen passports had bought tickets to get to Europe, where they hoped to obtain asylum. Their presence on the flight had raised speculation of a possible terrorist link.
Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said neither man has a criminal record. Police in Malaysia said one of the men, Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 19, was intending to migrate to Germany and is not suspected of having links to terrorism groups.
Gen. Khalid Abu Bakar, Malaysia’s police chief inspector, said police had spoken to the man’s mother who said she knew her son was using a stolen passport to join her in Frankfurt.
Interpol identified the second man as Delavar Seyed Mohammadreza, 29. He entered and left Malaysia at the same time and date as Mehrdad. Southeast Asia is a hub for illegal immigration.
Bakar said authorities had “no prior intelligence on activities of terrorists” in connection with the flight but that did not mean they were ruling out terrorism. He said the investigation into the missing flight was focused on four areas: hijacking, sabotage, personal problems among crew and passengers, and psychological problems among crew or passengers.
As an example of relevant psychological or personal problems, Bakar suggested police would investigate “if somebody on the flight had bought huge sums of insurance,” so their family could gain, or were in severe debt. “We are looking into every possibility,” he said.
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 in 2011. One of the women, Jonti Roos, said she and a friend were allowed to stay in the cockpit during the one-hour flight from Phuket, Thailand, to Kuala Lumpur, and that it did not seem unusual to the plane’s crew.
Malaysia Airlines said it took the allegations very seriously at the time but that, “We are in the midst of a crisis, and we do not want our attention to be diverted.”
Most of the passengers aboard were from China, whose state-run press has been critical of the speed of the Malaysian response. China has delivered photos and profiles for all 153 of its citizens on the flight, Bakar said.
The airline said it was also checking out a report that the flight may have tried to turn back from its far western position before disappearing.
“The authorities are looking at a possibility of an attempt made by MH370 to turn back to Subang. All angles are being looked at. We are not ruling out any possibilities,” Malaysia Airlines said in the statement.
Hjelmgaard reported from London. Contributing: John Bacon in McLean, Va.