Investigators trying to solve the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner are looking at ‘sabotage or hijacking', after examining military radar data reports suggesting the plane was purposely flown hundreds of miles off course.
Reuters is reporting that analysis of the Malaysia data suggests the Boeing 777 carrying 239 people on board, diverted from its intended northeast route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and instead flew west, using airline flight paths normally taken to the Middle East and Europe.
This points to the theory that the plane was being flown by the pilots or possibly someone familiar with those routes, according to sources in the Reuters report.
"What we can say is we are looking at sabotage, with hijack still on the cards," said that source, a senior Malaysian police official.
Malaysian police have previously said they were checking whether any passengers or crew had personal or psychological problems that might offer clues to why the plane vanished, along with the possibility of a hijacking, sabotage or mechanical failure.
Further compounding the mystery of what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 were reports late Thursday that investigators were exploring whether someone on the plane may have deliberately disabled two automated communication systems in an attempt to avoid detection.
The Wall Street Journal reported that aviation investigators were looking into the possible disabling of the jetliner's transponder, which transmits information on the plane's identity, location and altitude, and another system that collects and transmits data about the plane's key systems.
ABC News quoted two unidentified American officials as saying the U.S. believes the plane's data reporting system and transponder were shut down separately, at 1:07 a.m. and 1:21 a.m. Such a scenario would indicate the plane did not disappear due to some kind of catastrophic failure.
A source familiar with the investigation but not authorized to speak on the record told Fox News that flight 370 continued to send "periodic pushes" of data after the transponder went dark, suggesting the jet continued to fly. This was described to Fox News as signals data that, in isolation, would not provide location data.
If the plane had disintegrated during flight or had suffered some other catastrophic failure, all signals — the pings to the satellite, the data messages and the transponder — would be expected to stop at the same time.
Six days after the plane disappeared, Malaysian authorities expanded their search westward toward India, saying the aircraft may have flown for several hours after its last contact with the ground shortly after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.
Asked if it were possible that the plane kept flying for several hours, acting Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said, "Of course, we can't rule anything out. This is why we have extended the search. We are expanding our search into the Andaman Sea."
The sea, part of the Indian Ocean, is northwest of the Malay Peninsula. The jet had enough fuel to reach deep into the Indian Ocean.
Sources familiar with the investigation told Reuters on Friday that military radar tracking evidence suggests the plane may have been deliberately flown across the Malay peninsula towards the Andaman Islands, a chain of isles between the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal.
The last plot on the military radar's tracking suggested the plane was flying toward the Andamans and investigators were focusing increasingly on the theory that someone who knew how to fly a plane deliberately diverted the flight, Reuters reported, citing unidentified sources.
One part of the hunt is in the South China Sea, where the aircraft was seen on civilian radar flying northeast before vanishing without any indication of technical problems. A similar-sized search is also being conducted in the Strait of Malacca because of military radar sightings that might indicate the plane turned in that direction after its last contact, passing over the Malay Peninsula.
The total search area being covered is about 35,800 square miles — about the size of Portugal.
India, meanwhile, began a land search on Friday, scouring over hundreds of uninhabited islands making up Andaman and Nicobar -- an area that stretches over 447 miles north to south and 32 miles east to west, The Wall Street Journal reported.
In the latest disappointment, search planes failed to find any debris from the plane after they were sent Thursday to an area of the South China Sea off the southern tip of Vietnam, where satellite images published on a Chinese government website reportedly showed three suspected floating objects.
"There is nothing. We went there. There is nothing," Hishammuddin said.
Investigators have not ruled out any possible cause for the plane's disappearance.
Experts say that if the plane crashed into the ocean, some debris should be floating even if most of the jet is submerged. Past experience shows that finding the wreckage can take weeks or even longer, especially if the location of the plane is in doubt.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.