* Military radar suggests plane turned back and flew some
* Hijack, sabotage, mechanical failure also being
* Still no sign of missing plane, search in fourth day
* 227 passengers and 12 crew aboard lost flight
* Interpol says doubts "terrorist incident"
By Niluksi Koswanage and Eveline Danubrata
KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 Malaysia's military
believes a jetliner missing for almost four days turned and flew
hundreds of kilometres to the west after it last made contact
with civilian air traffic control off the country's east coast,
a senior officer told Reuters on Tuesday.
In one of the most baffling mysteries in recent aviation
history, a massive search operation for the Malaysia Airlines
Boeing 777-200ER has so far found no trace of the
aircraft or the 239 passengers and crew.
Malaysian authorities have said previously that Flight MH370
disappeared about an hour after it took off early Saturday from
Kuala Lumpur bound for the Chinese capital, Beijing.
But a senior military officer who has been briefed on
investigations told Reuters the aircraft had made a detour to
the west after communications with civilian authorities ended.
"It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower
altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait," the officer said.
The Strait of Malacca, one of the world's busiest shipping
channels, runs along Malaysia's west coast, while Kota Bharu is
on the northeast coast.
Such a detour would appear to undermine the theory that the
aircraft suffered a sudden, catastrophic mechanical failure, as
it would mean the plane flew at least 500 km (350 miles) after
its last contact with air traffic control.
The plane's transponder and other tracking systems were
either shut off or not functioning around the time that
communications with air traffic control ended. That would have
prevented so-called secondary radar used by civilian authorities
from identifying it, but not primary radar used by the military.
After the comments from the officer, a non-military source
familiar with the investigations said the reported detour was
one of several theories and was being checked.
But a spokesman for the Malaysian prime minister's office
said in an interview with the New York Times that senior
military officials told him there was no evidence the plane
recrossed the Malaysian peninsula, only that it may have tried
to turn back.
"As far as they know, except for the air turn-back, there is
no new development," said the spokesman, Tengku Sariffuddin
At the time it lost contact with civilian air traffic
control, the plane was roughly midway between Kota Bharu, to the
northeast of Kuala Lumpur, and the southern tip of Vietnam,
flying at 35,000 feet (10,670 metres).
Malaysia's Berita Harian newspaper quoted Air Force chief
Rodzali Daud as saying the plane was last detected at 2:40 a.m.
by military radar near the island of Pulau Perak at the northern
end of the Strait of Malacca. It was flying about 1,000 metres
(3,280 feet) lower than its previous altitude, he was quoted as
There was no word on what happened to the plane thereafter.
A huge international search operation has been mostly
focused on the shallow waters of the Gulf of Thailand off
Malaysia's east coast, although the Strait of Malacca has been
included since Sunday.
Navy ships, military aircraft, helicopters, coast guard and
civilian vessels from 10 nations have criss-crossed the seas off
both coasts of Malaysia without success.
In the absence of any concrete evidence to explain the
plane's disappearance, authorities have not ruled out anything.
Police have said they were investigating whether any passengers
or crew on the plane had personal or psychological problems that
might shed light on the mystery, along with the possibility of a
hijacking, sabotage or mechanical failure.
"Maybe somebody on the flight has bought a huge sum of
insurance, who wants family to gain from it or somebody who has
owed somebody so much money, you know, we are looking at all
possibilities," Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said at
a news conference.
"We are looking very closely at the video footage taken at
the KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport), we are studying
the behavioural pattern of all the passengers."
The airline said it was taking seriously a report by a South
African woman who said the co-pilot of the missing plane had
invited her and a female travelling companion to sit in the
cockpit during a flight two years ago, in an apparent breach of
"Malaysia Airlines has become aware of the allegations being
made against First Officer Fariq Ab Hamid which we take very
seriously. We are shocked by these allegations. We have not been
able to confirm the validity of the pictures and videos of the
alleged incident," the airline said in a statement.
The woman, Jonti Roos, said in an interview with Australia's
Channel Nine TV that she and her friend were invited to fly in
the cockpit by Hamid and the pilot between Phuket, Thailand, and
Kuala Lumpur in December 2011. The TV channel showed pictures of
the four apparently in a plane's cockpit.
The fact that at least two passengers on board the missing
flight had used stolen passports has raised suspicions of foul
play. But Southeast Asia is known as a hub for false documents
that are also used by smugglers, illegal migrants and asylum
Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble named the two men as
Iranians, aged 18 and 29, who had entered Malaysia using their
real passports before using the stolen European documents to
board the Beijing-bound flight.
"The more information we get, the more we are inclined to
conclude it is not a terrorist incident," Noble said.
The Malaysian police chief, Khalid, said the younger man,
who he said was 19, appeared to be an illegal immigrant. His
mother was waiting for him in Frankfurt and had been in contact
with authorities, he said.
"We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist
group, and we believe he was trying to migrate to Germany,"
Khalid said, though he said he could eliminate the possibility
of a hijacking until the investigations were completed.
In Washington, the director of the CIA in Washington said
intelligence officials could not rule out terrorism as a factor.
"You cannot discount any theory," CIA Director John Brennan
About two-thirds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew now
presumed to have died aboard the plane were Chinese. Other
nationalities included 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six
Australians, five Indians, four French and three Americans.
China has deployed 10 satellites using high-resolution earth
imaging capabilities, visible light imaging and other
technologies to "support and assist in the search and rescue
operations", the People's Liberation Army Daily said.
U.S. government officials from the National Transportation
Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration have
arrived in the region to provide "any necessary assistance" with
the investigation, White House spokesman Jay Carney said in
Underlining the breadth of the search effort, an
international body set up to detect possible breaches of a ban
on nuclear tests said it was analysing infrasound data "for
possible clues" on the missing flight.
The Vienna-based Preparatory Commission of the Comprehensive
Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation, which has a global network
of monitoring stations, said standard reports from its
International Data Centre "did not reveal anything that could
aid in the search for the missing MH370 plane".
The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records of any
commercial aircraft in service. Its only previous fatal crash
came on July 6 last year when Asiana Airlines Flight 214 struck
a seawall on landing in San Francisco, killing three people.
U.S. planemaker Boeing has declined to comment beyond a
brief statement saying it was monitoring the situation.