Police on Saturday drove into the residential compound where the missing plane’s pilot live in Kuala Lumpur, according to a guard and several local reporters who were barred from entering the complex. 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 12.40am on March 8. Its communications with civilian air controllers were severed at about 1.20am, and the jet went missing, heralding one of the most puzzling mysteries in modern aviation history.
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, Mr Najib said. Shortly afterward, someone on board then switched off the aircraft’s transponder, which communicates with civilian air traffic controllers.
Mr Najib then confirmed that Malaysian air force defence 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,” Mr Najib said. Although the aircraft was flying virtually blind to air traffic controllers at this point, on-board equipment continued to send pings to satellites.
The prime minister said the last confirmed signal between the plane and a satellite came at 8.11am – 7 hours and 31 minutes after take-off. 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,” Mr Najib said.