MH370 Off Course? Search Moves as Malaysian Military Reveals New Info

March 11, 2014 Updated: March 11, 2014

Did missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 fly off course? It appears increasingly likely that it did, as a huge search along its planned route has turned up nothing.

In addition, the Malaysian military has radar data showing the missing Boeing 777 jetliner changed course and made it to the Malacca Strait, hundreds of kilometers (miles) from the last position recorded by civilian authorities, according to a senior military official.

The development injects more mystery into the investigation of the disappearance of Saturday’s flight, and raises questions about why the aircraft was not transmitting signals detectable by civilian radar.

Local newspaper Berita Harian quoted Malaysian air force chief Gen. Rodzali Daud as saying radar at a military base had detected the airliner at 2:40 a.m. near Pulau Perak at the northern approach to the strait, a busy waterway that separates the western coast of Malaysia and Indonesia’s Sumatra island.

“After that, the signal from the plane was lost,” he was quoted as saying.

A high-ranking military official involved in the investigation confirmed the report and also said the plane was believed to be flying low. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Authorities had earlier said the plane, which took off from Kuala Lumpur on the western coast of Malaysia at 12:40 a.m. Saturday en route to Beijing, may have attempted to turn back, but they expressed surprise that it would do so without informing ground control.

The search for the plane was initially focused on waters between the eastern coast of Malaysiaand Vietnam, the position where aviation authorities last tracked it. No trace of the plane, which was carrying 239 people, has been found by than 40 planes and ships from at least 10 nations searching the area.

Earlier Tuesday, Malaysia Airlines said in a statement that search and rescue teams had expanded their scope to the Malacca Strait. An earlier statement said the western coast of Malaysia was “now the focus,” but the airline subsequently said that phrase was an oversight. It didn’t elaborate. Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the search remained “on both sides” of the country.

The changed route means that the plane flew past the airport that it originally took off from, a puzzling development that provokes more questions than answers. 

The pilots on the plane, identified as Zaharie Ahmad Shah and Fariq Abdul Hamid, didn’t send any distress signals or radio any change of course.

It’s unclear if the move westward was made before or after contact was lost with the plane around 2:40 a.m.

Police are also looking into other possibilities such as terrorism. Officials investigating two people who boarded the flight with stolen passports but said that they were Iranians who had purchased tickets to Europe and likely didn’t have any terrorist links.

Another angle speculated about online was that there was some kind of connection to the plane’s disappearance and the 20 employees of a superconductor company called Freescale Semiconductor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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